As a therapist, you know that self-care isn’t something you need to feel guilty about.
You are well aware that good self-care for therapists is essential, if you want to be effective and attentive in your work life with clients, and loving, strong and tuned-in with your family and friends.
But let’s face it: many of us therapists have a tendency to short-change ourselves when it comes to self-care.
You may even feel a bit guilty about prioritising your own self-care.
So self-care for therapists is always a work in progress.
Hopefully you are already working on improving your ability to actually allow yourself the more obvious, unapologetic forms of self-care. (If you want some reminders of these, I’ve listed some at the bottom of this page)
…But how about sneaking in some ‘hidden self-care’ too?7 'hidden' self-care ideas that therapists & counsellors can sneak into their day Click To Tweet
Here are 7 ways we therapists can sneak some hidden self-care into our day:
Hidden Self-care for Therapists Tip #1: Body Check-In
This is probably the most important one on my list, so if you only pick one tip to try, make it this one!
A body check-in is very simple to do. Just take a minute to centre yourself, breathe, and draw your attention inwards. Scan your body and notice any areas of tightness, heaviness, numbness, etc.
It’s particularly good to do a body check-in whenever you have a decision to make. Whether the decision is very small (“do I want the salad or the soup?”) or really big (“should I commit to buying this house?”) a body check-in can give you valuable information.
Likewise, if someone asks you if you can do something for them, you don’t have to give an answer immediately. Instead take a moment to do a body check-in and tune in to what your bodily reaction is telling you. Then take things from there.
Hidden Self-Care for Therapists Tip #2: Catch the ‘Sleep Wave’
You may already know that our bodies have biorhythms: natural cycles, or waves, of wakefulness and sleepiness.
What you might not have realised, is that you need to be ready to catch the wave when it arrives.
When you prepare to go to sleep it’s a bit like wading out into the surf with your bodyboard. You watch and wait for the next strong wave to come along, and when it does you use its energy to lift and carry you with ease.
With sleep then, what this means is that you need to be prepared to catch the right wave of sleepiness, because (or so I’ve been informed) the waves come approximately every 90 minutes. If you have a wave of sleepiness at 10.30pm, but you miss it because you’re finishing something on the computer, or flicking through TV channels, then you may find that at 11pm when you ‘should’ get to sleep, you’re lying wide awake for the next hour.
Catch an early-enough wave of sleep, and you’ll be ready to benefit from Tip 3…
Hidden Self-Care for Therapists Tip #3: Wake up Naturally
Waking up naturally is one of the most delightful ways to look after yourself better. When you experience the luxury of waking at the right point in your sleep cycle, you’ll feel less groggy and more ready to get going with your day.
And in my experience, natural waking means you’re also more likely to get a massive bumper bonus: remembering your dreams. Dream recall can add a whole extra dimension of feeling intimately connected to your deepest creative self.
Of course, most of us think it’s pretty impossible to wake without an alarm (whether a technological one, or just a toddler or cat jumping on you!)
And yes, if you’ve got young children or a long commute, maybe you truly can’t have that luxury (yet).
But many people find that it’s perfectly possible to adjust their schedule, either with an earlier bedtime, an improved sleep regime (read my 12 tips for getting better sleep here) or by shifting appointments to later in the morning. Try it if you can, and see how it works for you.
Hidden Self-Care for Therapists Tip #4: Take in the Good
It’s often said that the human brain is like Velcro for bad stuff, and like Teflon for good stuff.
Our inbuilt negativity bias means that we’re wired to give far more attention to the problematic elements. So, in order to really maximise the benefit we can get from the positive aspects of our experience, it can be really helpful to develop a practice of ‘taking in the good’.
Start looking out for the small fleeting moments of ‘good stuff’.
This can be anything from a child’s smile, a delicious cup of coffee, a flower in bloom, or even just the satisfaction of finding a pen that works exactly when you need it. Noticing these moments is the first step.
The second step is for you to focus consciously on that thing, breathing it in, for about 12 seconds. Apparently that’s the time needed to help a positive thing ‘stick’. That’s it!
(You can read more about ‘taking in the good’ in Rick Hanson’s book ‘Hardwiring Happiness’).
Hidden Self-Care for Therapists Tip #5: Duck Meditation
There will be moments in your day when you can take a couple of minutes to centre yourself, and notice your breathing. For example, it could be when you wash your hands, get into/out of your car, or wait for a bus or train.
Focus on lengthening and deepening your breathing, making sure you are using your diaphragm (your abdomen will rise and fall).
Attending to your breathing can be enough, especially if you only have a minute, but you may sometimes like to add other elements. Such as ‘Duck Meditation’.
Begin by slowing, lengthening and deepening the breath.
Then you might like to visualise a duck bobbing gently and calmly on the sea.
Imagine how peaceful the duck is, and how she trusts the waves to support her, not worrying how deep or vast the water may be.
See if you can take in some of that sense of being calm and supported.
Hidden Self-Care for Therapists Tip #6: Mindful Doodling
Mindfulness doesn’t have to take long or involve sitting on a meditation stool.
Frequent ‘ordinary’ moments of mindful attention throughout your day can have a powerful positive effect on your nervous system over time, and be a very important part of self-care.
You may be used to doodling as a non-mindful activity: maybe you doodle absent-mindedly when you’re taking a phone call or listening to the speaker at a CPD event.
But you can also doodle in a more intentional way, taking a few moments to be focused on what you’re doing, and mindful of the sensory experience.
Instead of thinking about emails, phone calls and what to make for dinner, see if you can simply attend to the in-the-moment sensory experience of moving your pen or pencil across the paper (including touch, sight and sound, maybe even smell).
There’s one very important rule: Do not judge!
Notice how I called it ‘doodling’ and not ‘drawing’? That’s because I’ve found that if people call it ‘doodling’, they seem more able to accept their creations (and the process) non-judgementally. Which is a very important aspect of mindfulness.
Hidden Self-Care for Therapists Tip #7: Listening
As a therapist you’re already excellent at listening when you’re in a client session.
But a really good ‘hidden self-care’ practice can be to take brief moments in your day when you simply listen attentively to sounds around.
Street sounds, birdsong, leaves rustling in the wind, your own breathing… what can you hear?
Open up to more distant sounds too, like the hum of distant traffic, waves if you’re near the sea, or an airplane far up in the sky.
And if you’re somewhere quiet, you may even detect your own inner body sounds, and the ‘sound of silence’ which may be heard as a subtle hum, buzz or pulsation.
I hope these examples have given you some ideas of the hidden, perhaps less obvious things you can add in to your daily self-care practices.
Self-Care is often a virtuous spiral, with one thing leading you to add another, and on and on until you’re looking after yourself so effectively that your clients benefit too, by getting you at your very best in session after session.
And serving your clients to the best of your ability is what you became a therapist for, after all!
If you want to treat yourself to a whole day of wonderful replenishing self-care that involves getting playful with art materials in a safe and supportive small group of like-minded therapists and counsellors, I occasionally run workshops on Creative Self-Care for Therapists and Counsellors.
P.S. Here are some of the better-known self-care ideas that you probably already know, but could do with being reminded of:
- Lunchtime walks in nature
- Visits to art galleries/ museums/ theatre/ cinema
- Journaling and creative writing
- Retreats and creative workshops
- Eating, sleeping and exercising well
- Taking care of ourselves financially
- Nurturing our relationships
- And of course, that whole scented-candles-and-hot-bubble-baths thing…
And if you have any ideas of your own for hidden (or not hidden!) self-care for therapists, I’d love if you’d share them in the comments section below.
P.P.S. Did you want to know why therapists need to ROAR a bit, every now and then? Of course you did. Read this!