Standards of Self-Care Series 3 of 3

In the final article in the series reviewing the Standards of Self-Care established by The Green Cross Academy of Traumatology, we cover the section on Inventory of Self-Care Practices.  These practices fall into one of three categories; Personal, Social/Interpersonal and Professional.

Personal self-care practices include both physical and psychological strategies.  These have been noted as engaging in bodywork to release tension, getting proper sleep and proper nutrition. In addition, this category includes relaxation time, time in nature and creative expression.  Other recommended skills include assertiveness, stress reduction, interpersonal communication, cognitive restructuring and time management.

self-careFBUnder Social and Interpersonal self-care, the guidelines state that we should have “at least five people, including at least two at work, who will be highly supportive when called upon.” I think this is great because as helpers we sometimes struggle to ask for help.  To know that the bar is being held at finding five people, whom we are willing to ask for help, puts us in a solid position to stay healthy.

In addition this category includes getting help personally and professionally as well as engaging in social activism that brings a sense of satisfaction for trying to make change.

The final category, professional self-care, is all about Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries.  This section recommends setting boundaries to keep work and home separate, time boundaries to prevent overworking, therapeutic boundaries and personal boundaries.

It ends with this statement, which I one hundred percent believe is necessary. “Realism in differentiating between things one can change and accepting the others.”

The reason I love this last guideline is because over the course of my work as a Compassion Fatigue Coach, I find this to be the single biggest barrier to implementing all of the other self-care strategies.

Because helpers tend to have giant hearts and tend to work with people who have multiple struggles and needs, the ability to accept what can be changed and what cannot be changed (at least in that moment, with the resources they have) is very difficult.

The inability to accept that maybe you can’t solve all the struggles in the immediate moment, causes helper to work longer, harder and feel even more despair when they go home at the end of the day, while their client is still in some level of distress.

This overworking, over giving and over caring is what can put you on the fast track to Compassion Fatigue and Burnout.

I encourage each person I work with to create a statement they can tell themselves when they feel hurt because they cannot fix all their client’s problems in the moment.

My statement has varied over the years, but is generally something like this,

“I did not single-handedly create the society that has put this person, in front of me, in this situation.  I will not single-handedly be able to heal and solve this person’s problem.  I will do my absolute best with what I have and trust that the universe will take care of the rest.”

This is why spirituality is such strong protective factor for Compassion Fatigue and Burnout. Spirituality gives you the sense that there is more in this world that just individual people and provides a framework of beliefs about why things are as they are.

I trust that I play a role in many people’s lives.  I also trust that I am not the only one and that others will as well.  This statement and belief system has kept me safe from breaching my own self-care boundaries numerous times.

I know a statement like this can seem controversial or harsh to some people.  What are your thoughts?  How do you make sense of the pain and suffering you see as a helper while still keeping your health protection.  Please let me know in the comments below.

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Charlene Richard

Charlene is a Clinical Social Worker providing mental health counseling for a Family Health Team in Ottawa, Ontario. She is a Compassion Fatigue Specialist and supports helping professionals move from Compassion Fatigue to Compassion Satisfaction through workshops, coaching and an online eCourse at View all posts by Charlene Richard

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