Clinician Self Care Best Practices

Clinical Director of Clementine Adolescent Treatment Program at Oliver-Pyatt Centers, Dr. Bertha Tavarez, PsyD shares a very important post on clinician self-care and provides examples of how the team members of Clementine integrate these self care practices into daily work life. 

How does the opera singer take care of the voice? The baseball pitcher, the arm? The woodcutter, the axe? The ballerina, the legs and feet? The counselor, therapist, teacher, or heath professional, the self?

-Excerpt from ‘The Resilient Practitioner: Burnout Prevention and Self-Care Strategies for Counselors, Therapists, Teachers, and Health Professionals 2nd Ed.’ Thomas M. Skovhoh & Michelle Trotter –Mathison

“Experiencing burnout? Who, me? Never!” If you are lucky enough to make it your life’s work to care for others, chances are, you have experienced the burning hot coals of burnout. Burnout is defined as ‘a state of chronic stress that may lead to physical and emotional exhaustion, professional detachment, and perceived lack of effectiveness and accomplishment.’ Burnout can be experienced on a continuum, and, if left unchecked, can negatively impact even the strongest treatment providers.

In a qualitative analysis of job burnout, eating disorder treatment providers were found to be at high risk of burnout due to characteristics of pathology, patient characteristics, and work-related factors (Warren, C. et al., 2012). Work-related factors that contribute to burn out include: lack of structure in the organization, poor support from team members, and difficulty managing large caseloads with multiple professional responsibilities. Although we cannot control the nature of the diagnosis or patient characteristics, we can empower ourselves to create a paradigm shift in how we manage work-related factors.

As the Clinical Director of Clementine Adolescent Treatment Program at Oliver-Pyatt Centers, I wanted to combat the effects of burnout in our staff by crafting team building opportunities. I developed a plan to engage the staff in daily exercises that would promote practitioner resiliency. I hope these daily exercises act as a fun and dynamic shift in how we relate to one another as well as the clients via a deliberate parallel process.

Gratitude Jars
I presented staff members with individual gratitude jars and a bag of glass pebbles. I encouraged staff members to place a pebble in the jar every time they experienced gratitude for their work. This exercise really encouraged us to find gratitude in the little moments. For most of us it opened our eyes to attend to moments of gratitude. At the end of the week, we counted and reviewed our pebbles (75 total! Woo hoo!) We realized that although we were unable to recall every moment, we had the awareness that they occurred.

Coloring Self-Care
The Clementine Staff was given “self-care homework” and asked to spend some time coloring using Valentina Harper’s Creative Coloring Inspirations book after a long work day. The next day, we discussed what the experience was like and how it influenced our ability to find closure in the work day and engage in a soothing activity at home. The response from staff was positive and uplifting! For those who struggled to complete the task, it provided greater awareness about the importance of self-care. Others reported gaining insight regarding a tendency toward perfectionism during the coloring process, and how this may have hindered self-care. A binder of blank pages was placed in the staff office and made available for continued use. These coloring pages were given to clients who shared similar experiences to use as a primary method of coping during difficult times in treatment.

Adult Show-and-Tell
Staff members participated in “adult show-and-tell” during lunch. They were encouraged to bring in a prized possession that proved meaningful in their lives. The purpose of this exercise was to encourage the staff to share aspects of themselves with greater meaning and value and build relationships with one another outside of the typical work-related dialogue. Staff members brought in emotional treasures from their past, and we took turns presenting them and sharing stories. Through laughter and tears, we found a place of greater connection. One of our staff members described this moment perfectly when she said, “I will never forget this work day.”

Mindfulness Bubbles
On Friday, staff members were given bubbles to use in order to encourage a playful mindfulness moment at the end of the week. This simple exercise proved to be a catalyst for joy for all of Clementine. Recovery coaches, therapists, and clients were united in play!

Closing Reflection
As I think back at these activities, I can say they greatly benefited us individually and collectively. The most rewarding aspect was that, as we took better care of ourselves, we were able to spread this loving energy to those we serve.

‘In dealing with those who are undergoing great suffering, if you feel “burnout” setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself. The point is to have a long-term perspective.’ – Dalai Lama

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Warren, Cortney S.; Schafer, Kerri J.; Crowley, Mary Ellen; Olivardia, Roberto; Eating Disorders, 2012 May-Jun; 20 (3): 175-95.