10 Nov When the therapist needs some therapy
Its been a while since I last had the urge to write anything. The last few months I’ve found myself needing to take some of my own advice and rest, recuperate and reflect on my own needs for a while. This has been relatively tricky for me as I am so used to being on the go and active in the care of my schools, clients and families. Despite this, it has been a necessary pause and after a few months of doing absolutely nothing with my time, I am finally understanding of why I needed this time.
Therapist’s are notorious for taking on the issues of others. Its what we do. Help people. People have all sorts of baggage attached to them and whilst we may look very specifically at a certain area of the people whom we treat, we cant help but come into contact with other challenges that the person or family may be facing at that moment.
I’ve always thought I’m pretty good at self-care as a therapist. I’ve been working and supporting children and young adults with SEND my whole life and I thought for a long time that my personal experiences make me realistic about what I myself need in order to do my job well.
I’ve always practiced separating work from home life. I have a relatively good routine of events that I engage with to keep myself happy. Since having Hendrix live with me, I am more active and therefore feeling much better in my physical body. We walk together every day; we play together, and he never fails to make me smile. Recently that has changed. I have had a flare up of pain from my hips. Back when I was a child, I suffered a type of hip dislocation and required surgery to correct this. I spent 6 months in hospital and a year on crutches, couldn’t play sports, run or move with much ease. I loved sport, loved running and was incredibly active.
This flare up has prevented me some days from working. I’ve had to cancel days at school, individual clients and some days haven’t had the strength, patience or energy to even throw the ball for Hendrix. I’ve found him irritating, annoying and needy at a time when my tolerance for everything is low. Performing basic functions such as dressing and showering have taken pretty much all my energy and patience, leaving not a lot else for me to use for anyone else.
As I am self-employed, this has been even harder to manage. Without working, I can’t pay the mortgage and that adds to my stress and worry quite a lot. Where I can, I’ve been to see families, modified what I do within school and had some very helpful colleagues support me with simple things like collecting clients, seeing them out and making me a coffee occasionally. This has been hard for me to accept. I am fiercely independent and usually the one helping others. I never have and probably never will be a ‘good patient!’
The last few months have seen a shift in power in my professional relationships. Instead of being the strong supportive one, directing where we need to go and what we need to do. Offering words of wisdom and providing a space for people to reflect on what has been happening, I have had to suck it up and learn some of these things first-hand for myself. The dynamic has become much more balanced in my sessions. It has been an opportunity for my clients to see me at a weak point, to see that I am human too and managing my own issues with life. It feels like our relationship has strengthened because of this. Parents have been accommodating of my inability to sit on the floor. They’ve become more active in sessions because I can’t be so. They’ve even had to help me up a couple of times when I’ve been too forceful on my body.
It’s made me think a lot about how balanced we really are as professionals when supporting those with complex differences. I always thought I was pretty good at getting families to engage, at helping them to reflect on their own interactions and situations well but these last few months have taught me that even where I think I’m good at something, there is always room for improvement. Always space to wait a little longer, give a little more thinking time and hold the floor wider, more softly and with patience for the family and client to get there themselves. I’ve had to hold this space for me too. The more I’ve tried to push myself into acceptance, understanding and realisation, the more my pain and restrictions in movement have intensified.
So, what am I going to do differently and how will I take this experience into my practice?
I’m certainly going to be thinking about how many demands we place on our complex clients when writing outcomes and recommendations for their EHCP. Adding pressure on someone when life is already demanding is not going to help.
I’m going to strengthen my clinical practice in taking even more time to build a relationship with the client. Watch them quietly, see how they already do things and focus even more on their strengths.
I’m going to hold that reflection space even more for families. What has gone well this week? How are you feeling about this situation? How do you think your child is feeling about this?
I’m going to practice even more self-care techniques. I’m going to say no to certain activities and events. Going to schedule back in some admin time for reports and I’ve already booked a well needed holiday somewhere warm for a while.
I’m going to not always have an answer or suggestion or piece of advice. Sometimes just to listen and be there is enough.
Power balances are important working with clients. We must share the load equally but we must always allow ourselves to accept support back. We must remember to take care of ourselves in the process, not lose ourselves and ensure that in order to help others, we do what we need to do too. I think this goes not only for professionals but also for parents, siblings and extended family members of children with SEND.