Balancing Professional and Personal Lives through Self-Care

Module Sections:

Using Strategies and Techniques

Prioritizing Self-Care

Arledge and Wolfson (2001) explain how to better relate to burnout or compassion fatigue as, "change in the clinician's internal experience that results from responsibility for and empathetic engagement with traumatized consumers (91)." Regardless of any profession that deals strictly with trauma, the practice of self-care is vital. The recurrent turnover rate of helping professionals could have strong parallels to the lack of self-care practices. The best way to help the clients succeed is if the professional is in the best state of mind and body. Arledge and Wolfson agree that for this to be accomplished the helper and organizations that these helpers work for and with "understand, recognize, and address signs of stress (p. 91)."

Impact of trauma work (ITW) is a term used when working with trauma patients. This term is used to describe burnout, compassion fatigue, and vicarious tramatization in a more positive light. These other terms give off a pessimistic implication about the client and helper. Dealing with ITW can change the way a clinician thinks, lives, and helps. This can often lead to the helper discarding any beliefs, morals, or value systems to which they used to live by.

Arledge and Wolfson also state that a "sense of personal safety can be distorted (p. 92)." The lack of safety can make the clinician stray away from the therapeutic tasks to which they are to help the clients. They can turn their sessions into negative conversations about how the world is bad and everyone is out to get them. Or it can turn the other way, it can become a situation where the helper desensitizes themselves to apparent dangers which leads them to have a failed sense of awareness, which can lead them to stop helping the client be prepared in unsafe situations.

Another way ITW can affect the helping professional is through the upheaval of their religious/spiritual beliefs. This can lead the professional to lack the ability to "heal, transition, and triumph," these practices are no longer a comfort. In the case of Sara, exhaustion was her biggest battle. Sara was tested by a client named Anne who was very aggressive and manipulative. In the sessions with Anne, Sara was confronted with so many emotions but felt she had to suppress them so she could be able to go forward helping Anne. Anne's aggressive behavior was taking its toll on Sarah and she started to experience exhaustion. Arledge and Wolfson explained that, "a clinician's ability to stay grounded in a strong sense of self, even in the face of strong feelings, is weakened when his or her inner resources are depleted. Changes can occur in the clinician's ability to tolerate, maintain a positive sense of self, and maintain an inner sense of connection (p. 93).""

This is exactly what happened to Sara when working with Anne. Her resources were fading and her work was struggling because of the impact of exhaustion. This can also lead the helper down a self medicating path of substance abuse, which is not a practice of self-care.

All of these factors prohibit the clinician from being completely successful with the goals of their client. So by understanding and respecting the apprehensions of the client the helper is better able to assist. In the situation where the professional is the survivor of trauma the helper can bring in a certain amount of skill and education. But with this it can lead to some negative dilemmas when helping the client. If the helper has not fully dealt with their trauma they can revert to their emotions and reactions from their situation. They can also want the client to cope with their trauma in the same way the clinician did and if the client does not, the helper can have feelings of anger. So before the professional trauma survivor can help any clients they need to practice self-care and deal with their own thoughts and feelings.

Solutions for the helping professional are going to come from a personal, social, and work environment.

First, the helping professional themselves have to be able to come to terms and be aware of how stress is affecting them through trauma. Without the awareness themselves they will not be able to seek out the help they need. From a social perspective, it helps if the helper's family or friends can help them understand and recognize that there is a problem and help them on a way to a path of help.

Second, from the work environment, the agencies these professionals work for should have programs set up to help the individual and the other co-workers around them. The individual also needs to be able to practice self-care, take care of themselves mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Without some kind of balance the helping professional cannot be successful with their clients on their mission to a healthier path.