Helpers Helping Helpers: Self-Care, Introspection & the Helping Professional

September 05, 2018


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This series is titled “Helpers Helping Helpers”. This series attempts to gain clarity and resolve the possible reasons for the lack of self-care observed in the Health Care Professions. This article will explore the need for this series and focus in on key terms that require explanation. The ultimate goal here is to raise collective consciousness regarding the challenges that Health Care Professionals face both inside and outside of their professions; with the hopes of reducing burnout and improving the overall quality of life of Helpers.

Since I am a Mental Health Counselor by trade I will often focus on the plight of Counselors, psychologists, social workers and those in the Mental Health setting. However, this series is meant to be inclusive of all the helpers out there. For clarification purposes it is important to explain how the term “health care professionals” is being used in this article. The term alludes to those that work in health care settings primarily. However, I am also referring to what I deem the “Helpers”- those in positions where the majority of their responsibilities include intense work that focuses on repairing the physical, emotional and mental distress of others. These people are directly responsible for the overall quality of life of an individual.

These people include lawyers (those who defend rape victims and clients that have both caused and suffer from trauma), doctors (who deal with the life or death of their patients), psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, social workers, home attendants and other professionals that have not yet been listed. These people have a higher potential to acquire vicarious trauma from doing their jobs and helping others. From this point forward I will simply call us “helpers”.This series is dedicated to us, the Helpers. Those of us whose lives are devoted to seeing the needs of others; I want you to know that you are also seen, with love.

It is important to note that the concepts explored in this series are unique to what the practitioner themselves can control and do not reflect the things that should be provided to them by their place of employment. Health care professionals often report feeling restricted by their place of employment due to the following reasons: Lack of advancement opportunities, work overload, poor salary, too few staff members, poor organizational culture, lack of mentoring, lack of training, and not enough time with patients. I have been victim of the shortcomings of the organizations that were supposed to aid me in my work but instead restricted my efforts. I sympathize and empathize greatly with the “Helpers” out there who are doing the work of two employees and getting paid well below their standards. The rates of budget cuts and lack of accountability in mental health settings can be a traumatizing experience in and of itself. However, although these issues are extremely important and need addressing this series focuses on what is in the practitioner’s control as a way to empower them and help those they serve. In fact, what I am proposing is that when a clinician develops self-care/introspection as the cornerstone of their lives they will either fight to amend the above issues or move on to a job that will allow then to be the best versions of themselves possible.

Since this article is proposing that self-care and introspection are vital to improving the quality of life for Helpers it’s important to define both constructs. The term “self-care” has been making an appearance in public forums and it’s no wonder with the high rates of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes in our country. According to the CDC in 2010 the top ten causes of death were chronic diseases including heart disease. During 2009­–2010, more than one-third of adults, or about 78 million people were obese in America according to the CDC. The alarming rate of children who according to their BMI are obsess as even prompted First Lady Michelle Obama to launch a movement to combat childhood obesity called “Let’s Move!” It is becoming clearer that despite the availability of food and countless life options, the American public has a hard time taking care of their physical and overall health. The recent emphasis on self-care techniques in the public is a response to this slow awareness.

On World Health Day in 2013 a group organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) provided the following self-care definition: ‘Self-Care is the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, and maintain health and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health-care provider.”  This definition is quite broad and attempts to make concrete an abstract subject. This series will focus on Self-care as a deliberate act. This is often times not emphasized, however is important because it fosters self-accountability and self empowerment.

Introspection, on the other hand, can be more easily understood. The dictionary defines it has “the examination or observation of one’s own mental and emotional processes.” Now I am proposing that with the absence of purpose introspection ca be dangerous. The negative side of introspection can be a tendency to use it as ammunition for feelings of worthlessness, shame, and self-judgment. This can look like rumination and can spiral into depression or anxiety. Like everything, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to use the tool introspection. However, it is of the utmost importance to realize that the healthy ways of using introspection can literally transform a person’s life. Therefore it is worth the risk of having to deal with the negatives that might come arise.

Please stay tuned for the next part of the series “Who Are These Helpers Anyway?” Where we will focus on defining the characteristics of helpers and exploring their strengths and weaknesses. Remember the overall goal is to raise collective consciousness regarding the challenges that Health Care Professionals and thus help the helpers.Feedback and comments are appreciated!If you would like to learn more about Self care read the following article by:

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