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Self-Care - An Ethical Imperative for
Professional Caregivers

By  Dr. Jamie Huysman, LCSW
Professionalsí Issues Editor

 

A professional caregiver came into my practice in tears last week. She is entirely the catalyst for this article.
 
Well-documented budget cuts and a demand for more services than can be provided are taking their toll on those I call professional first responders.  These social service providers are under siege and at greater risk for compassion fatigue and burnout than ever before. Many have become desensitized, distant, cynical, and disenchanted with their jobs because they are working longer, harder and faster with fewer resources and no time to recover between three-alarm fires.
 
Police, firefighters and EMTís are taught to handle burnout; they are trained to remain at the ready. However, the concept of self-care has not been ingrained in therapists, counselors and social workers.  We have not traditionally identified ourselves, or been openly accepted, as first responders or caregivers with self-care concerns.  Yet we are expected to be professionally fitóready or not.  Itís as if having knowledge of compassion fatigue and burnout should be enough to keep it at bay. 
 
We are naÔve to think that the occasional CEU workshop is sufficient to fulfill our professional responsibility to ourselves and our clients.  We know that most people do not seek the services of professional caregivers (not paid family caregivers) until or unless they are in crisis.  We do ourselves and our profession a great disservice if we think we are immune to our own humanity.  At the same time, we also provide daily care for our own family members. Make no mistake; if we consider ourselves super people, this is our kryptonite.
 
Additionally, the wounded healers among us are more of a rule than an exception. Many of us work as professional caregivers because of wounds from early childhood experiences.   These personal traumas may still be unresolved and lie dormant in our unconscious.  Yet we do not give much thought to how the problems of those we treat impact our own lives.  We are not trained to abate our secondary traumatic stress; we usually find that out the hard way. 

In spite of all the letters after our names, it remains difficult for professional caregivers to embrace the importance of taking care of ourselves.  The irony is, we sit back and give expert advice without considering that we might practice what we preach.  Self-care in a professional caregiver is not a choice; I see it as an ethical imperative.

Unfortunately, when contemplating how to care for our whole selves, we may mistakenly see therapy in the same manner that the general public doesóas a process that is only applicable in a crisis situation or as a last resort.  Research has shown that not only can talk therapy improve our own lives as professionals, but it has been shown that it improves lives as a whole across the board.

Please feel free to contact me confidentially at drjamie@caregiver.com  no matter where you come from. If you live close by, I may even refer you to the therapist Iíve been seeing for the past 16 years!

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