Self Care: How It Affects Both Us AND Our Clients When We Don’t Do It

By Sasha Asumaa, LPC, CEDS

I find it so interesting that we therapists spend so much time telling and guiding others on how to better take care of themselves, but often when it comes to ourselves we don’t take our own advice! Why is that? I am a firm believer that we must practice what we preach and we must walk the walk if we are going to talk the talk. I also firmly believe that our clients can tell when we are taking care of ourselves and when we are not. Would you take advice from someone to take better care of yourself if you knew they weren’t doing the same? I sure wouldn’t.

Let’s just take a moment for you to reflect on what happens when you don’t take care of yourself properly. What happens when your spouse/partner doesn’t take care of themselves properly? What happens when your clients don’t take care of themselves properly? Here’s a list of some possibilities:

-Tired
-Grumpy
-Get sick
-Communicate less and fight more with family and friends
-Abandon our coping skills
-Don’t take our medicines as prescribed
-Use alcohol/drugs/eating disorders/etc.

Several years ago I stopped and reflected on my own life, the hours that I was working, and how that was affecting myself, my family, AND my clients. I was going to work and then I was coming home and working, sometimes into the middle of the night-, which had me sleeping in another bedroom so I wouldn’t disturb my husband. I was tired, and stressed, and always thinking about work. I wasn’t engaging as much with my husband, who is a huge introvert, so I doubt he minded too much, but there’s still only so long a marriage can withstand that. Now, this is pre-children, so at least I wasn’t affecting anyone else, but I’m glad I figured it out before I got there! There would be times that I would come in to see clients and they would ask me if I was feeling ok or was I sick. They are very tuned in to me, just as I am to them, so of course they would notice! I think this probably spearheaded the effort for me to take better care of myself honestly. I big part of my job is to lead by example and I take that very seriously.

Many of us have to work hard to take care of ourselves and find balance. Here’s what I did to get/do to maintain my balance…

1.     I stick to work hours as much as possible. This is especially important for those in private practice.  I don’t return calls/emails before 9:00am or after 5:00pm. There are some exceptions to my rule (aren’t there always)- like going to networking dinners, and if it’s something that I know I will forget to respond to knowing what the next day looks like for me, then I will go ahead and do it to make my life easier. But for the most part I’m pretty stringent about this. I turn my ringer/tones off so that I can’t even hear notices so that I can focus on taking care of my family and myself.

2.     I actually do coping skills. You know- those things we are always telling clients to do? Yep. Those. I use them. Everyday. I’m sure many of you do too, but it sure is easy to let them slide!

3.     I take vacations. I’m terrible actually. I have to leave town. If I don’t leave town I’ll find a way to go to work. I’ll tell myself “it’s just an hour or two,” and then I’ve missed the whole point, which is that I needed to take a break and recharge.

4.     I meditate. It’s good for the soul and keeps me calm. What else can I say? I need as much calm as I can get!

5.     I exercise most days out of the week. It just makes me feel better to move my body, and it’s great for your brain too!

6.     I am home for dinner. Most nights anyway. Unless I am at a networking dinner or out having fun with my girlfriends, I make sure to take that time to connect with my family.

7.     I set healthy boundaries with my clients. There’s not a lot of contact outside of therapy sessions. Any concern a client has really needs to be addressed in the office, so we set up a time to do that. If I do find someone needs more, I refer clients to a higher level of care or a different kind of therapy that offers support outside of the office, like DBT skills coaching. Side note- this is just like taking care of ourselves, we need to be able to show our clients how to set healthy boundaries so that they can do it themselves.

8.     I’m careful about what I take on. I am one of those people that commit to something 150% when I say I will do something. I am fiercely loyal and reliable. So when I am approached to take something on or asked to do something, I really think about whether I have time to do it, when exactly I will have time to do it, and how it will affect my schedule and my life in general.

9.     I go to the doctor.  I take time to check in and make sure my body is functioning the way it needs to and is “supposed to”. I make as much effort to keep my body healthy as I can, so that my head can stay right too.

Alrighty- so let me come back to how this affects our clients. It’s pretty simple actually. If my clients see that I am not taking care of myself, how motivated are they going to be to do the same? Not much. Chances are if I am not modeling it, then there’s a slim chance that they are even going to make even a little bit of an effort. It’s like it gives them a pass to say, “see it’s too hard for my therapist who is in the business of teaching people how to take care of themselves to do it, so it must be impossible.” So many of my clients come through the door already believing that they cannot take care of themselves. They need help correcting that belief, not making it more believable and stronger.

My glorious mentor told me years ago, this business is just about planting a seed for some. How about planting a seed for not only your clients, but also yourself, and the family and friends surround you?  What does your self-care regimen look like? Does it need some fine-tuning? 

Sasha Asumaa is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Georgia. She has 10 years of experience working with eating disorders including pre and postoperative bariatric surgery, anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder in both a hospital and outpatient setting. Sasha also has a passion for working with women ages 15 and up with chronic illness, thyroid disease, infertility, trauma, addiction, and family and relationship problems including domestic violence. Sasha is currently in private practice in the East Cobb area of Marietta.