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!