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Rethinking the "Self" in Self-Care

By Brayton Wooters, MA, PLPC, CRC, Co-Host of Mentor Moments



It doesn't take much observational prowess to notice that self-care has been a therapy buzzword for some time now. After only two years in the field, I couldn't begin to count the times self-care has been inserted into conversations, supervisions, case

consultations, and agency-wide workshops. It's everywhere, regardless of its intent, regardless of its authenticity. Luckily, this phenomenon will continue to be explored in articles, blog posts, and research assessments by those with much more time and knowledge than my own.


As a clinician working in the realms of wellness and mental health, talking about

self-care and its importance had begun to feel redundant and repetitive. For a while, the whole idea had begun to feel like a moot point. "Hey, you should do self-care." "Well,

yeah, duh." My thoughts began to shift however once Dr. Michael Kiener and I

interviewed Katie and Thomas Wolff on the Mentor Moments Podcast. Our two guests share not only a wealth of knowledge, but also a marriage!


Discussions were had about self-care, about monitoring burnout, and the collaborative space that self-care can occupy. The conclusion of this interview left me with a new curiosity worth writing about: Should self-care be as reliant on the self as it has been marketed by our culture, and advocated by our clinicians and colleagues?


If I were to Google the term "self-care," I can make a strong prediction as to what I’d find. In each photograph and stock image, I may see individuals partaking in a range of activities: yoga, meditation, reading a book, hiking, playing an instrument, etc. The one common denominator in these images? The individuals are typically alone.

 

I would certainly say that I fall within the realm of people who recharge with alone time. In silence and solitude, brief periods of isolation have been a powerful tool in grounding myself, regrouping my thoughts, and feeling rested. That said, have we as clinicians and consumers cornered ourselves into thinking that being alone is synonymous with self-care?

And additionally, should taking care of ourselves be such an isolating responsibility?

 

Interviewing Katie and Thomas, I learned more about how each member of this union supports each other. Each spouse reads the other’s body language, makes observations of their capacity to work, and attempts to gently intervene when the risk of burnout is

imminent. And when one partner is approaching their limit, the other will encourage them to take that necessary break. This partnership highlights not only the power of intimate support, but also calls into question whether we can or should carry the full weight of taking care of ourselves.



I can already hear the independent part of my brain screaming, “Of course, it should be my own responsibility! I’m an adult. If I don’t take care of myself, then nobody else should!”


However, for the therapists reading this, you may know how powerful it is to challenge our clients’ unhelpful/inaccurate thoughts. What happens when we investigate these desires to be self-sufficient? What is the culture these thoughts are rooted in? How has Western society permeated itself into that desire to be independent? So many questions, not enough time in this article!


Of course, with all things, there is balance. “It depends,” as our professors and supervisors will continue to echo. For those of us not in partnerships or relationships

that look like this, we may not have access to this kind of “self-care safety net.” However, can it be something we strive towards? Can we identify the individuals that know us best, those that can pick up on our signs of exhaustion, and gesture us to our reading books or running trails?

 

That level of mindfulness that monitors our energy and stress can be a difficult tool to master. Listening to our minds and bodies can be incredibly difficult in today’s world.

While we continue to flex our mindfulness muscles, why not continue to build that

network of support? Self-care shouldn’t have to feel like just another task on our list. Our health and wellness are so tightly linked with our social supports that pushing self-care into the realm of isolation can lead us to feel more lonely, more stressed, and thus more likely to burn out.

 




Now, this article is not a hit-piece against alone time. As previously stated, separation

from the world and its inhabitants can go a long way in restoring our energy. So does the connection we feel with others. Perhaps we can all take steps towards widening our perspective of what self-care looks like and how it can be managed in our lives. I will conclude this writing with the following three questions. Feel free to journal your

answers, or explore your responses throughout your week:


1)    Does taking care of yourself ever feel like a chore?

2)    When you are exhausted, who would be the first to notice?

3)    Have you ever shared your self-care activities with someone?



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