I've written about this before. Some of the advice given to social workers (and other members of the helping professions) regarding self care is just shamefully and wholly inadequate. In my case, I work as a therapist specializing in family preservation and child trauma. Taking time to take a bath will not adequately soothe my soul after I have difficult days in which I have witnessed abuse, dysfunction and sometimes, in the absolute worst case scenario, death.
Besides, my bathtub is from the early 1970s, fills as quickly as a dripping faucet can and the water turns cold halfway through. That sounds ... stressful.
So taking baths and lighting candles is not enough. It's becoming a joke in our profession, right? We don't need more baths. We need better pay, more time off to be able to soothe our souls and rejuvenate, and less working hours (I average about 50 working hours a week, which doesn't take into account the amount of time I am on call and have to respond within 15 minutes. We won't be discussing my pay rate.) I've written about my deep love of Tara Brach before, as well, and how critical it is that we find a place within ourselves where we accept our complicated feelings about the work we do and avoid punishing ourselves for them. (Radical Acceptance - one of my favorites, fyi.)
I say all of this, and then in the next breath I tell you: there is no other work I would rather be doing (and on a bad day if I tell you differently and threaten to become a barista or a librarian or a poet, I am most likely lying). When social work and therapy clicks, it clicks. For me, it is spiritual (in a non Joel Osteen type of way - get out of here with that name it and claim it business!) and meaningful and beautiful. Even the smallest moments of connection and healing in sessions are sacred, and those moments are part of what sustain me as a worker. The other day I witnessed a partner be able to tell their partner to "hold on - I have something to say." Doesn't sound like a lot, right? It has taken us weeks to get to that point. Weeks of practice, of debriefing, of homework, of REBT mixed with Narrative Therapy (sometimes that works, turns out ...). My heart almost burst with pride for both of them. That's their success. I was just fortunate enough to witness it.
At the same time, however, the work becomes exhausting. Balancing work needs with being married with the never ending home remodel with Rosie's training starts to wear on me. It's been a long few months and I very much neglected taking care of myself (helllllooooo 10 extra pounds and chronic muscle pain!) and got to a point of frustration in which I told Shoes, "What do I have to do, schedule self care in my calendar?"
He didn't say anything, because I'm not stupid. If that's what I have to do, then that's what I have to do. Scheduling time for myself is a feat, you guys, and I don't even have kids. But between the work schedule, my work contract which details that when I'm open with families I'm always available to them, and the constant revolving door of house contractors, if I don't schedule it in, it's not going to happen, because there will always be something else that will need to be done. Always.
I talked to my supervisors about the level of stress I had been feeling, and, to my relief, they said, "You need to be asking for more support. You need to be asking for more time away from your phone. We have the infrastructure for this." (And, because this was during my yearly eval, they also said, "We're promoting you to lead therapist and we're going to ask our ED for a raise for you.) Important note: social work agencies have widely varying levels of support. I am thankful every single day for my agency. They aren't perfect and there are still gaps (did I mention we're not going to be discussing my pay rate, despite the raise?), but they are supportive. (Because this paragraph has already rabbit trailed into the slightly random, I will also tell you that my yearly eval made it easy to turn down an unexpected recruitment from another local social work agency this week. Why would I leave already established support, professionalism and integrity?) Worlds away from last agency, in which I was expected to conduct involuntary psychiatric detainments despite the fact that there were literally no beds, received almost no supervision, and had ongoing therapy clients for which I obtained almost 90% productivity with no time for progress notes).
These things aren't huge, but they've definitely helped: I've asked Shoes to take over more of the contractor scheduling. And I've moved around my own personal budget to be able to attend on a fancy yoga studio on a semi regular basis. (Re entry into yoga is the subject of the next post.) I'm still not going to take baths in our ridiculous bath tub, and I'm not going to be lighting candles. But I am going to be dedicating more time and space to my own emotional needs and thinking about what centering and balance means for me personally. We owe it to ourselves to think about what we really need, (really, really need) on a personal level to be able to continue to do the work. We owe this to ourselves, foremost. Our clients. Our families. I am a valuable commodity. You are a valuable commodity. The use of YOU in the helping profession (as if I need to tell you guys this) is one of the most critical features for client growth. If we don't believe that we are worth taking care of, how are we going to be able to communicate to our clients, with integrity, that they are worth taking care of?
We are all worth taking care of.
Thoughts? Frustrations? Contributions? Something I missed? Please feel free to share.