I have always considered myself as terrible at self-care. As therapists, it is a part of our DNA to give of ourselves and it is a proven necessity to replenish your give-abilities by taking some time and making some effort to focus on your own needs. For the past 10 years I’ve thought I was just terrible at it but I have come to realize recently that, in reality, I just have unconventional self-care.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a massage and it’s my go-to “this will help no matter the problem!” self-care. Spending time in nature is a good stress-reliever. But, over the years, the best way I have found to stave burnout is actually an infusion of the very thing I want to escape. For me, knowledge is self-care. In any field, we’d refer to this as professional development. I think a good indication that you are NOT in the right field is when discussion about your career doesn’t inspire, motivate, or at the very least encourage you.
Professional development can take many forms. Conferences are perhaps the most conventional method, and for the first 5 years of my career, that was how I stayed sane. I would never forsake our national music therapy conference, took a full week off, stayed in a room by myself, and the combination was magic. I had full independence, control of schedule, a break from the norm, and 4 days full of others pouring into me in my native tongue of music therapy. The trip home was always full of hope, planning, and development for the self-employment I had never wanted in a career I desperately loved. When I moved to Tennessee and became a part of a team, professional development was all around me. Now, I was a part of a department with OTHER creative therapists (which, in a niche field, is a breath of fresh air), on a team with other professionals who give of themselves and a company who knows what their staff need to stay encouraged. Staff trainings can inform, but even more useful is the support the company shows for my own professional goals. They know that if I am inspired, I will give better services to clients and represent the company professionally. What they pour into me comes back to them in multitudes. Conferences and time off aren’t everything – it’s possible to provide your own professional development. Books, research, even just time to develop your own plans and strategies can bring a renewed interest and joy to the everyday.
One more event that I would classify as professional development is giving presentations about the work you love. Invest in others, share the knowledge you do have. This does many things: reminds you what you know and that you have good things to say; remind you how you first came to enjoy what you do by seeing recognition of it on others’ faces; and challenges your current practice with questions; forces you to answer the question “why do I do what I do?”
If all of these opportunities don’t bring you to a renewed sense of professional self…it’s very possibly time for a different career. No need to bemoan any time wasted; just pick up the workshoes and try something new. There is no shame in change. And there is no shame in non-traditional self-care!
Share with us your non-traditional self-care techniques in the comment section below.