When we talk about the ethical responsibility we have to take care of ourselves as helping professionals, we don’t necessarily think about a specific set of guidelines to follow. In this article, we will take a look at the Ethical Principles of Self-Care as well as the Standards of Humane Practice of Self-Care.
The Green Cross Academy of Traumatology has created the standards of self-care guidelines for their members to follow. The purpose of the guidelines are twofold: 1) do no harm to yourself while helping or treating others and 2) “attend to your physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs as a way of ensuring high quality services…” to those who are looking to you for support. It also states that self-care is so important for preventing a practitioner from harming clients, that it is unethical to not attend to self-care practices.
The three principles of self-care in practice are stated as:
1) Respect for the dignity and worth of self: A violation lowers your integrity and trust.
2) Responsibility of self-care: Ultimately it is your responsibility to take care of yourself and no situation or person can justify neglecting it.
3) Self-care and duty to perform: There must be a recognition that the duty to perform as a helper cannot be fulfilled if there is not, at the same time, a duty to self-care.
The four standards for self-care are stated as:
1) Universal Right to Wellness: Every helper, regardless of her or his role or employer, has the right to wellness associated with self-care.
2) Physical Rest and Nourishment: Every helper deserves restful sleep and physical separation from work that sustains them in their work role.
3) Emotional Rest and Nourishment: Every helper deserves emotional and spiritual renewal both in and outside the work context.
4) Sustenance Modulation: Every helper must utilize self-restraint with regard to what and how much they consume (eg: food, drink, drugs, stimulation) since it can compromise their competence as a helper.
Often when I give a workshop on Compassion Fatigue, I speak about the importance of helping professionals to attend to their own healing as well. This speaks to the ethical principles – we need to respect ourselves, develop our self-worth and be responsible for our own self-care. In order to be a helper, we have an ethical duty for self-care. We thrive as professionals when we come from a place of self-worth, confidence and dignity for ourselves… and yes, this means doing the tough emotional healing that we ask of our clients!
This doesn’t mean only getting help from someone when we are in a crisis, it means really taking an inventory of our own past hurts. What does our grief history look like ? Have we healed from significant losses both from death and the end of relationships? Do we have a trauma history? Over 70% of the population has had one or more significant traumas, so have we healed from ours?
The thing about helping professionals is that many have entered the field because of a personal struggle that was overcome with the support of another helper, so naturally we wanted to do the same for others. Do we have any of our own physical or mental health struggles, and are we seeking support for them?
We will always have experiences that cause unpleasant emotions, that’s just life. Having said that, as helpers we need to know how to deal with these in a healthy way so that we can integrate the experiences and move on, instead of being stuck in them and potentially being triggered by them when clients share similar struggles.
I recently received an email from a helper who provides support for pet loss. She is not a counselor and wanted to know how to separate her grief from the grief of the people she is helping. In my opinion, this is a two-step response: 1) Helpers needs to heal from their own grief and 2) Helpers need to learn how to practice conscious empathy, so we don’t unconsciously catch our client’s grief.
Alright, enough of my rant on the importance of our own healing. The standards of Self-Care are pretty basic and most helpers know these, although, the last standard “Sustenance Modulation” can be somewhat controversial for people. Sustenance modulation states that helpers are to utilize self-restraint with regard to how much they consume (food, drink, drugs, stimulation). I don’t mean it’s controversial because it’s not true, I mean it in the sense that this is the standard that can sometimes bring up a little bit of defensiveness in people.
I would love to know your thoughts on the Principles of Self-Care and the Standards of Self-Care as they relate to your role as a Social Worker. Please leave a comment letting me know what you think!