As with many professions, speech-language pathologists engage in counseling our clients and their families. Chad challenged us to think about the kinds of feelings we absorb from our clients, termed “vicarious stress,” and what to do with those feelings. We were reminded that it’s important to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others. Just like we are told to put on our airplane oxygen mask before we put on our children’s. How can we help someone else if we don’t take care of ourselves first?
Chad probed us to ask ourselves questions adapted from WestEd’s activity entitled “Protect, nurture and support your own mental health”: 1) What kinds of support help me respond effectively to clients? 2) What resources (e.g., a colleague, supervisor, spiritual organization, friend, counselor, or book) are available to me for help with my own challenging feelings that come up sometimes when I’m working with children? 3) What other resources would be useful for dealing with stress/emotional support in my work with children and families? 4) What small and larger choices can we make to nurture ourselves?
We were offered a mental framework to guide us in our voyage to self-care that started with acknowledging that managing the stress of challenging cases requires intentional and comprehensive efforts. We must think of managing stress rather than totally absorbing or avoiding it. We may need to try versions of self-care before we feel comfortable actually changing or implementing the change.
Some of our therapists’ big take-aways for self-care strategies included the following:
Think of the metaphor of a “midwife” to shift our thinking from ‘healing’ our clients to helping our families through a process.
Rephrase our thoughts and conversations with others. Work to reframe our state of mind and associated emotions. The connotative difference between words like “curious” vs. “worried” can make a difference in how we approach a case
Draw information from our experience of dread, anxiety, guilt by writing it down and acknowledging it.
Find regular, ongoing and consistent ways to check in with someone you trust instead of holding it all alone. This allows someone else to “bear witness to our experience” for us to be “held in someone else’s mind”
Take microbreaks: one sun salutation, enjoying a glass of water, saying a mantra 10 times. Whatever we have to do to be mentally, physically, and emotionally prepared given the tight schedule we run on
Map your week, preferably the week before, so you know where stress points are going to be and can plan ahead (e.g., this meeting is going to be tough, so I’ll do yoga at lunch before)
You don’t have to respond to an email right away especially if it upsets you. Take time for yourself everyday no matter what!
Schedule time to think about a client whether before or after seeing them. This practice will eventually help us think in the moment and deal with topics then and there.
We were so grateful to have Chad lead discussions that acknowledged our roles as “helpers”, reminded us to engage in self-reflection, and offered strategies that we have the power to implement to take care of ourselves so that we can better serve others.