As graduate students in the mental health field, we are tasked with the challenge of helping others achieve mental wellness. However, in focusing on the wellbeing of others, we often completely forget to take care of our own emotional health.
“Being a graduate student is like becoming all of the Seven Dwarves. In the beginning you’re Dopey and Bashful. In the middle, you are usually sick (Sneezy), tired (Sleepy), and irritable (Grumpy). But at the end, they call you Doc, and then you’re Happy.” –Ronald Azuma
Grad school is not meant to be a walk in the park. The responsibilities associated with being a grad student involve completing coursework, providing treatment, conducting testing/assessment evaluations, working on research projects, teaching courses, fulfilling practicum requirements, preparing for supervision meetings, writing your thesis, dissertation, and clinical documentation, and involvement in professional organizations (just to name a few).
These tasks are doable. They require a lot of work and time management skills, but they are doable.
But what if you have a spouse at home who expects your time and wonderful attentive nature? You won’t be the only one who’s Grumpy. Being a spouse requires an even greater commitment.
“We have to push ourselves beyond what we think we’re capable of.”
“I have three ‘bosses’ who all expect 100% from me, but I can’t physically give 300%. I feel like I can’t accomplish enough. It’s never enough.”
“I’m scared out of my wits. I live in panic mode all of the time. I just want more stability.”
“I’m just waiting for someone to figure out that I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“I spend so much time working, and thinking about working, that I have no time for enjoyment.”
These statements were not made by clients. They were not spoken in a counseling session, or at a support group. These are statements made by doctoral students during group supervision, after being prompted to speak about their successes of the semester. These statements certainly don’t highlight successes. Rather, they speak to feelings of stress, anxiety, hopelessness, imposter syndrome, and fear. These statements speak to mental health concerns.
Self-care. Everyone in our professional and personal lives talks about it, but it’s easier said than done, right?
It seems we all intend on going to the gym, spending valuable time with loved ones and enjoying those extra moments of our favorite television shows, but sometimes things get lost in translation. And we may find ourselves yet again buried underneath a mountain of work with little hope of accessing our original intent.
So, what’s the remedy? There are lots of resources available to us, but perhaps if we set aside some time to build our self-care plan, it is less likely to crumble under stress.
It is important to realize that therapists need to take care of themselves as much as we tell our clients to take care of themselves. After all – we are human, too!
With heavy workloads and complex cases, it is easy to forget the impact our work can have on our physical and mental health.
Often we work in isolation, with people in crisis or pain. Alongside the normal life ‘distractions’ we have additional responsibilities in the form of professional ethics, codes of conduct, licensing issues and insurance requirements.
All these elements can add up to a big emotional and energy cost for the individual therapist so it is essential to take steps to protect ourselves. Continual professional reflection can help to identify areas where we need to take steps to ensure the weight of the work we undertake is not taking a toll on our own health.
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