Published on Thrive Global: Finding My Way Back to Wholeness

aking cues from my personal life and bringing it into my writing is normally no problem. I aim for transparency and value openness. Talking about grief and loss, however, is a little stickier. In sharing my experience, I hope to empower others to talk about the things that feel sticky. After all, the things that no one wants to talk about are often the things we should be talking about most! 

Click on the photo below, or here, for my experience. If there's something you've been waiting to talk about, contact me and let's break the silence together!

What Real Self-Care Looks Like

I preach self-care a lot to my clients, my friends and family, and to myself. I strive to practice what I preach so this month I have decided to take on a 1 Month Self-Care Challenge to show others what self-care looks like in the life of a therapist. 

I have noted the things in bold that I notice I tell my clients to do but do not do often enough myself. It was so freeing to do these things and I'd highly recommend them! 

Week 1:

  • Coffee on the balcony with sunshine
  • Bubble bath with a book
  • Walked instead of taking the subway
  • Cooked and made leftovers
  • Let go of an argument that was bothering me
  • Gave myself a compliment
  • Put down my phone in the evening

What I Learned: At this point in the challenge, I was balancing between doing the things I already do and putting more intention into little things that I could do slightly different to have a bigger impact.

Week 2:

  • Didn't look at social media when I woke up
  • Made time for client notes instead of putting it off
  • Planted new herbs on the garden
  • Coffee on the balcony (I do this almost daily, but some days are more intentional than others)
  • Began getting in the habit of watering plants
  • Said "no" to something that felt draining
  • Went to a high intensity yoga class

What I Learned: This week was following our test run of (Re)treat Yourself: NYC. Part of our program is addressing barriers to self-care and committing to giving up one thing that is holding you back. I began looking at social media less when I first woke up and have felt exponential benefits already!

Week 3:

  • Went to a doctor's appointment and allowed them to (unexpectedly) take blood instead of coming back (because I never would have come back!)
  • Reached out to a friend for a phone call
  • Read something educational and informative (instead of my typical thriller novels)
  • Watched something mindless after a long day
  • Went for a hike!
  • Had a talk that I'd rather have put off
  • Cooked some indulgent comfort food

What I learned: Week 3 I noticed a pattern of avoidance (something I know about myself but have to be aware of) and addressed it with gentleness and self-love. 

Week 4: 

  • Went to dinner with friends and stayed present
  • Meditated before session outdoors
  • Had a beer at lunch (on my off day)
  • Actively chose to read a book instead of watching more TV
  • Continued a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction CE class (self guided)
  • Bought a plant that made me happy
  • Said 'no' to work on my weekend

There you have it! A few days in the life of a self-care advocate practicing what she preaches. I'd love to hear what YOUR self-care routine looks like as a helping professional. 

If you need to revamp your self-care routine & are located in NYC, check out (Re)treat Yourself: NYC , a self-care mini retreat that I'm cohosting this summer!

Working Through Self-Care Guilt

As a professional helper, you probably give wonderful advice. You can see other people's problems objectively and give thoughtful suggestions that will really help. The problem is, we so often do not listen to our own advice as professional helpers. 

Maybe as health providers we know what the recommended sugar intake is but still over indulge. Maybe as mental health workers we understand that communication is key but we withhold our emotions in certain relationships. Maybe we know better and just want to do what we want to do.

The problem that comes with not following our own advice comes in the aftermath: the secondary mental beating. I am going to go out on a limb and say that I am not the only one who experiences a little (or more) guilt after watching a few (or more) hours of TV, even though I really needed the zone-out time. I am betting that I am not the only one who curses myself after I have put my own needs to the side yet again for helping someone else.

What ends up happening in these situations is that we get upset for the initial perceived wrongdoing and then get a secondary reaming when we realize that we "shouldn't" be feeling this way. We often do to ourselves exactly what we advise our clients not to do.

The difference is that we can, hopefully, see the pattern and, ideally, break it quickly. We cannot strive to be perfect versions of ourselves and do everything "right" all the time. What we can do, however, is work through the guilt that comes along with self-care with something we give to all our clients: gentleness.

Perhaps indulging in that longer-than-usual nap on your weekend feels extra wrong. Maybe spending a little extra money on a dinner out after a long work day feels unnecessary. Even though you know what self-care you may need, when you practice self-care and then beat yourself up, doesn't that defeat the whole purpose?

Taking a cue from what I tell my clients, I want to remind us all to turn that gentleness and compassion inwards. Self-care is necessary, not just for our clients but for everyone--ourselves included! When we practice self-care without guilt, we are more likely to stick to those routines, benefit from the practice of self-love in its entirety and feel the lasting results of a cared for mind and body.

If you're feeling particularly lacking in the self-care department, sign up for my free 3 day challenge designed to reduce your stress & practice more self-care. Sign up here!

The Unique Needs of Professional Helpers

Being a professional helper comes with a unique set of rewards due to the nature of being deeply connected with others. We usually get to impact people on a deep, meaningful level and experience the highest of highs when this occurs. 

We get to help people change, become better versions of themselves, help them break through barriers, believe in themselves, heal and grow. We all know that does not come easily. It does not always happen either. Yet, we continue pursuing our passion to help others because sometimes it is not about the reward, rather about the process. 

As with any profession there are risks. Giving so much of yourself, your time, and energy that you may feel depleted is a common risk. I last wrote about compassion fatigue and the very real damages it can inflict on our work as helpers. 

Due to the deep output that we are giving day in and day out as professional helpers, we have a unique need to be recharged and refilled of this depletion. It does not happen as a one-and-done scenario, rather over the course of time with repetition and intention. 

The basic self-care that I recommend to all my clients, friends, and family is a great foundation for getting these unique needs met. However, we must be in touch with the additional needs that we have as helpers. 

Your personal self-care formula

Unlike most people who can give to themselves in one way and feel recharged and refreshed professional helpers need a bit more. I like to think of a helper's self-care formula as a pie with different parts and percentages. Depending on who you are and the circumstances of the week (or day) you may make small adjustments.

What I believe to be the necessary pieces of this pie:

  • Decompression
  • Compartmentalization
  • Self-love
  • Support from others

Decompression might vary based on the intensity of the week or day. I generally find that heavier weeks need little moments of decompression throughout the week rather than one long decompression-session at the end of my week. In this phase, I generally do a lot of deep breathing and sorting out of all that I have experienced that week. 

This helps to get to compartmentalization mode. Once I have decompressed and processed through the weight of everyone's needs for the week, I think about metaphorically clearing it all out of my headspace so I can focus on myself. Sometimes I envision a storage room with lots of beautifully organized shelves and boxes. In compartmentalizing what I have helped my clients process that week, I place it in it's box until I need it again. 

Once my headspace is all organized as neatly as it can be I take some time for self-care. Depending on the week I might need something pampering, relaxing, mindless or invigorating. 

The last piece of the pie to evaluate is support from others. Sometimes when I have done the first three pieces of my formula, I feel energized and ready to take on the world. Other times, I am left holding onto something that happened that week. Instead of letting it drag into the next week or stew in the back of my mind I assess whether I need support.

As professional helpers we need to recognize when the need for formal support is required. Therapists refer to this as supervision, or checking in with another therapist to process the experiences that we have as therapists. Sometimes ego gets in the way and tells us "no, you can handle this on your own." I have fell victim to this belief and, thankfully, I have learned from it.

Relying on others for support is one of the hardest and yet most necessary things for us to do as professional helpers. We know that others need help and we are no different. Chances are when you have addressed all other pieces of your self-care formula and you are still struggling to feel recharged, you might need some support. 

Remember that we are not alone in this journey of helping others and by no means does it make us weaker helpers for needing support. I would love to hear what your unique needs are. Join our facebook group or send me an email to share!

What You Need to Know About Compassion Fatigue

Hey there, wonderful helper! I have created this space for Helping Professionals because we have our own very important set of needs. We are in the business of helping others in a way that expands beyond the occasional favor, shoulder-to-lean-on, and helping hand that others provide. 

If you are like me, you share a piece of yourself with each and every person that you work with. You give in immeasurable ways: with your time, with your mind, with your energy, with your soul. The question I often get asked from my sensitive clients is "don't you ever get tired of hearing about everyone else's problems?" and from my closest friends and family "doesn't it ever wear on you?"

The answer put simply is yes, of course it does! This is why I have developed a dynamic and plentiful set of self-care habits that help me to offset the constant giving. I put just as much energy into giving back to myself, into recharging my batteries, and keeping my cup full so I can then give the best to others.

What is compassion fatigue?

There are limitations to the compassion that we give as professional helpers. If you have not heard of compassion fatigue, it is essentially being too overworked, overwhelmed, and overstressed to fully be present and compassionate helpers. This often occurs when we neglect good self-care practices for ourselves, when we lack support from others, or when we have reached the dreaded point of burn out.

Compassion fatigue can set in when we have internalized the negative conflicts of those we help or when we experience the trauma of others in the most empathic way: by feeling it ourselves. Sources on this syndrome indicate that it goes deeper than normal stress. It can actually impact our ability to truly help others, to see positivity and hope. 

In having that negative experience of our own, we are less likely to feel fulfilled in our work and are less prone to having the empathy that we once had for others. As you can imagine, experiencing compassion fatigue can become a cycle of feeling helpless for our clients and helpless for ourselves. 

What can we do about it?

Once you sense that you are suffering from compassion fatigue in any way, it is important to acknowledge it. There is a lot of shame in admitting that helping is hard but that only adds to the problem. We are only human and truly can help the best when we have first helped ourselves.

The "cure" for compassion fatigue is varied and depends on the type of person you are. Identifying the sources that contributed to this will be an excellent place to start. Perhaps it is the volume of helping that you are involved in. Maybe it is the type of work that you do or the type of clients that you see. Often times it is about finding balance. 

Adjustments should be made to your lifestyle and are best when proactive, rather than short-term or reactive. We can always use more support in the helping profession, so perhaps an ongoing check-in with a fellow helper, support group, or therapy appointment is necessary. Whatever it is, know that compassion fatigue is real and can be treated. 

I would love to hear how you combat compassion fatigue! If you are looking for an online group of fellow professional helpers, join us in our private Facebook group. If you need more individualized support, contact me.  

My Ultimate Act of Self-Care

As helping professionals, we are constantly giving away pieces of ourselves. Whether it is in large or small quantities, those bits can erode our sense of self over time. If we're not prioritizing good self-care practices, we are often at a loss to give our best selves to others.

I was always told in graduate school that therapists experience burn out within 5-10 years of working, sometimes even sooner. Many of the professors I met had experienced this themselves and adjusted their practices to keep going. We were warned in this beware-the-inevitable sense but were not told how to counterbalance it.

I can recall my Counseling and Psychotherapy Methods professor, Dolores McCarthy, saying that the biggest part of the work that we do as therapists lies in our ability to connect with a client, build rapport, and be real. This was the closest anyone got to talking about self-care in my graduate career. And even still, it was not spelled out for us.

I learned the hard way that I had to establish boundaries at work, not so much with my clients as my employer, in order to prioritize self-care. I learned that working 50+ hours per week as a helping professional was not sustainable for me. I realized the impending burnout and needed to make a big shift.

I understood that I wanted to remain in the counseling field. I adored helping clients, especially in the forensic world, but missed utilizing the holistic side of things that speaks to me so strongly. Instead of allowing my profession to run it's course and be reactive, I decided to be proactive.

I quit my job and moved to Italy to live and work on a farm. This was a five month sabbatical that I justified as my restoration process and oh, was it needed!

I recognize that this type of change is not for everyone, but my hope is that by sharing this crazy leap, I can guide others in the helping profession to a more sustainable lifestyle. Read on by clicking the photo below or clicking here to read my article on Elephant Journal about how I left it all behind and moved to Italy.

Creating the Life I Want as a Therapist

Asking the Hard Questions

I have been thinking a lot about life lately. I suppose taking a sort of sabbatical journey to work on an Italian farm will do that. However, I was not always this outdoorsy, farm type. I am a therapist by training and, I believe, by nature. Helping others comes naturally to me and I enjoy working with people through the toughest times in their lives. 

Leaving the work force for almost half the year allowed me to sit back and ponder how I want to live my life. I questioned things like: how much of my time do I want to spend doing clinical work, how can I be more creative, how else can I generate an income, among other things. Overall, it was a brainstorm with myself with the over arching question: how can I do what I love and not get burnt out?

Since returning from traveling, many people have wondered what I will be doing next, whether I will have permanent wanderlust or even return to my career as a therapist. I am here to answer all the questions and share the decisions I have made, not because I feel I have to answer these questions, but because I want to help by sharing my direction. If I can help one clinician avoid burn out, even by considering the other options they have, then my mission has been accomplished.

Taking My Own Advice

If you are in the helping profession like me, you might give a lot of really solid advice to others. You might have recognized that you do not often take your own advice. Maybe you even catch yourself suggesting someone do the opposite of what you tend to do. I don't know about you, but this is a tough feeling for me to deal with.

When I push my clients to practice self-care and establish boundaries only to find myself drained and checking my phone for emails constantly, I have to stop myself for a reality check. As helpers, we are not required to have it all together or be perfect by any means, but we need to realize that we act as models of behavior.

In this creation of a thing called my life, I have decided to take more of my own advice because I give pretty damn good suggestions! The more I listen to myself, the better I am able to help others by showing good practices. 

Getting Creative 

I had a resurgence of creativity while I was farming. It was as if being outdoors and out of my comfort zone unlocked a storage unit of ideas that I had shoved away because I had no room for them in my previous lifestyle. 

I had the opportunity to take a course this Spring called the Authentic Affiliate Academy with Nicole Liloia, a LCSW turned coach working with entrepreneurs looking to create a more sustainable lifestyle with less stress. I had been blogging for a bit but still felt skeptical about being an affiliate and potentially promoting things in a way that made me uncomfortable. 

What I learned was simple: if I am unable to get creative with my ideas about generating an income, I will be stuck. Nicole talked me through my fears and agreed with me about one thing. Most therapists and helpers in private practice trade hours for dollars and that is the extent of financial gain. Unless you get out of your comfort zone. 

Now that I am stepping into all the possibilities that await me as a business owner & entrepreneur, I am so much more available to be creative in my practice, evolve myself (and therefore my clients) and live in that balanced state I desire.

Understanding My Mission

I have always been interested in holistic practices--to me, this means thinking of something as a whole--and since my return from farming in Italy, I have understood how I might need to be thinking of my future holistically. 

My work is, of course, not my everything. However, by being in the helping profession I put my heart and soul out there constantly so it feels a little more engrained than 'just a job.' This is completely fine by me but I recognized from my life experiences and journey that I need to be thinking about what I want as a whole. 

I was asked by a friend and fellow entrepreneur a couple years back "how do you want to feel?" and I could not for the life of me answer this question at that time. He tried to explain what he meant and I did my best to envision the life I wanted. It wasn't until recently that another friend and fellow entrepreneur asked me this same question again that I finally understood. 

We get to create the life that we want. Obviously, within reason and circumstances certainly have a bearing on this, but we can truly envision anything we want and work towards that vision. I had to think about this holistic sense of myself and think about where all the new pieces of myself fit in. Following our journey to Italy, my husband and I now want to pursue farming and sustainable living professionally along side our careers. 

You might think I am crazy and that is ok. A therapist-farmer? Who has heard of heard of such a thing?! I hadn't either until I realized the two can certainly come together. This is my passion, my cause, my dream and my truth. I am declaring this mission today for you all to bear witness to.

So as I go forward in my pursuit to create this ideal life for myself, I ask you to join me. If this speaks to you and you want to live more aligned with your dreams, contact me. If you're in the helping field and this sounds like just the thing you need support with, join in as I work on creating a support network and community of people looking to create their ideal helping practice. You can find more information on Mindful Practice for Helping Professionals right here.