The importance of this is something that is installed into the psyche of all trainee counsellors and therapists. From the first training session, we are rightly told that we must look after ourselves as people and therapists so that we remain healthy enough psychologically and physically, to be in the room with our clients as they need us to be.
This is something I have always been told, but not always ascribed enough importance to. After around five years of working sometimes up to sixty hours a week in a therapeutic community, monthly training for ten months of the year, doing my continuing professional development (CPD), supervision (internally and externally), in around 2009 my physical health began to reflect my psychological health and I began to have problems with my stomach. Long story short in 2010 I was diagnosed with IBS and to this day my stomach acts like an extremely sensitive and accurate early warning system to me when I start to do too much and not focus enough on my own needs.
This is quite handy now, but back in 2010 I had to face the fact that I had flown far too close to the bright and extremely hot therapeutic sun and I had very nearly burnt out before I had even extended my therapy wings and got going properly in my profession.
This experience is always with me, even now, and it informs the way I practice and also how I live my life outside of work. The lessons though, even after fifteen years of experience, are often hard learned and not always remembered.
This comes to mind today because I am currently sat on a train to London. It is a birthday treat for my Step Son and something we have all been looking forward to it for months. As I type, I am feeling happy, tired and relaxed, yet the last few days at work have been anything but relaxing. I have had to condense four days work into three and work on Wednesday when normally that is my day to recharge a bit and write or read if I have the energy. This change of routine has impacted me more than I was expecting it to. I am also keenly aware that next week I am fitting four days worth of appointments into two days at work as I sadly will be attending my dear Father in-laws funeral next Tuesday.
This means that my diary for next week is frankly quite scary and not something I am keen to look at until Monday at the earliest. Wednesday and Thursday next week will be very demanding on both my mind and body.
This led to one of those rare ‘light bulb’ moments yesterday morning. Bizarrely enough it happened when I was in with a client and the conversation had somehow come back round onto the state of my office (v.messy!). I have been working with this particular client for a long time and they are comfortable enough in the room now to happily point out when they have noticed something in the room or myself that they find funny or ironic. So, comment was made on the pile of papers that had built up behind my air conditioning unit and how this was a reflection of pretty much the rest of the office which has been in a state of flux for around four weeks, whilst I am ‘sorting things out’ in it.
I turned round in my chair and saw what the client I was with and all the other clients I have had appointments with recently must have seen. My office was a complete and total disgrace! A mess of truly Freudian proportions… I had been walking in and out of the office for weeks and not seen it until that moment. In that moment I was slightly appalled and immediately wondered how on earth I had not seen what was going on around me up to that point.
My client and I spoke about this for a time (I think they rather enjoyed this part of the session) and as I processed my thoughts and feelings in that moment, the light bulb flickered on and into bright and clear life.
I am working too much again.
Bugger… Was the first thing that popped into my head as I realised I had not been aware of how tired I was and also how I have been doing so much work with clients and supervisees I have not had time to attend to my own basic and fundamental needs, so that I am able to do my job as well as I know I can.
I quickly realised the imbalance that is there in my mind and body at present, and I already know what I need to do to redress the situation. Indeed the changes I will now set about making, I first thought about six months ago, but did not have the confidence to implement them at the time. But now I am fully conscious that if I do not do something quickly, my stomach and psyche will combine their collective powers and soon let me know that I have pushed myself too hard for too long (again!) and I not keen to walk down that road again.
It will take a few months to get right and for my psychotherapeutic homeostasis to be back where I want it to be, but I find it chastening, yet also heartening, that after all this time, all the things I have learned, all the people I have helped, all of the things I have done, I can still be an absent-minded, overly anxious, under confident pillock, who needs a client to help point out the blindingly obvious.
As I often say, ‘there by the grace of God go I’ and it is always folly to believe that any person is immune to their subconscious insecurities, doubts and neuroses. Lesson learned… Again… Maybe!!