Compassion and Self Care: Mental Health Professionals Need Them, Too!

We live in very stressful times. One of the online memes that I see a lot is a picture of a young boy looking tired, with the caption, “I’m kinda tired of living through historical events!” Aren’t we all!

by Mark Saucier, LPC

It’s difficult to deal with everything that’s going on all at once. Global warming and climate change, restlessness in politics, wars and international intrigue, and none of it seems like it’s getting better. People are asking for help all over the place, which is very evident if you go online and look at the number of advice columnists who keep busy. Dear Abby, Ask Amy, Asking for a Friend, Carolyn Hax, Dear Prudence – all of them addressing the aches, pains, and griefs of life for people who feel as if their lives are spinning out of control.

Our job here is to help people. Within the overall JFS framework, we deal with many different issues and many different people. However, it’s important to remember to take care of ourselves as well. So often in helping professions, counselors and social workers forget to take care of themselves and become absorbed in their jobs and the problems of other people. 

In doing a group check-in, one of the methods I used to use was to ask everyone how they were doing physically, mentally, and spiritually. When I worked with substance abuse groups, one of the interesting things was that they always asked me to say how I was doing in those departments, too! They often feared being stigmatized, and sometimes felt that the counselor was putting themselves above “those addicts.” As a result, I checked in with them. I found that if I admitted I was having a difficult morning, it was much easier for them to relate to me and to each other. I was no longer the resented authority figure, I was a person encouraging them to share. 

As a result of this, I had to look at my own self-care. What was I doing to take care of myself? How am I physically, mentally, and spiritually? Wow. When I looked at it, I was eating fast food lunch, missing sleep, making treatment plans in the shower…and neglecting everything but work. 

I began to evaluate: What are my spiritual needs? Was I taking care of myself physically? Mentally? And how could I help other people if I wasn’t helping myself? That thought stopped me. I began to make changes, slowly but surely, in my daily routine that helped me move toward my goals of self-care. Leaving work at work was the first thing I had to deal with. After that, I began thinking about how I could take care of myself spiritually, and took up meditation, which helped a lot (though I am nowhere as consistent as I would like to be). 

Other changes came after, and I found that as I took care of myself I was able to get more perspective. I was able to see the clients and their issues more clearly, and I found myself developing more compassion. When I first started in my profession, a long time ago, I tried to “save” people from themselves. That edge of desperation took away my compassion and led to near-burnout. I turned that around, and I became a better counselor and a more well-rounded person. I’m not perfect, but I’m a long way from where I was, and I’m grateful for that.  

So, how do you take care of yourself? Where are you at physically, mentally, and spiritually? Are you remembering to take care of yourself, to take three deep breaths when you get in a jam? Are you maintaining your own personal life, having outside friends, outside interests? Are you listening to music, just sitting and listening, even for five minutes? Are you doing compassionate self-work? Reading something that doesn’t have to do with social work or counseling? 

It’s important for all of us to do this, because life is beautiful as well as challenging. Perspective is one of the things that troubled people lose, and when we work with people, we need to make sure we can keep our perspective wide and deep. If we know the map of the forest, we can see how to show other people out of the woods.

JFS is accepting new clients for in-person and virtual counseling. Call (504) 831-8475 or fill out a client intake form here.

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