As a therapist I am guilty. I don’t do self-care. In fact, I don’t even read books about self-care. But when I began thumbing through Ashley Davis Bush’s new book, Simple Self-Care for Therapists: Restorative Practices To Weave Through Your Workday, something happened. I realized it wasn’t so hard.
What Bush offers is an inviting tone, even for someone like me. You can think of her book with an alternate title: Self-Care for Those Who Avoid Self-Care.
I have seen other books on the subject, like the guide by Lilly Weiss, or the one by Jeffrey Kottler. But Bush’s book is special in that it doesn’t feel like a list of what you should be doing if you were doing a better job. Instead, Bush is in the room with us, as an equal, and her tone is never preachy, critical, or condemning. She is battling our resistance to healing ourselves along with us, on our team.
Bush reminds us that we, as therapists, are the instrument of healing, and thus “need to keep our instrument, our presence, well cared for.” She goes on to describe what it means to do self-care when it’s needed — in the moment, and not afterward. To help us understand the concept, Bush explains that there are two types of caring for yourself: macro and micro. Macro refers to things that take larger chunks of time, such as vacations, entertainment, and fitness — and whereas we might think of these activities as the ultimate form of giving ourselves a break, Bush writes that, in fact, macro activities “might feel separate from, rather than integrated into, our daily lives.”
This is precisely why we need micro self-care, she argues. Because if it isn’t integrated, it probably does little good. Instead of focusing on big vacations or the like, Bush suggests that we look at the “simple daily tasks that we can do to nurture, protect, and heal ourselves during our regular days.”
But why do we therapists often avoid what would help us? It is because therapists are primed to be caregivers, Bush writes. So we give and we give. But we can only withdraw compassion from our bank, as she puts it, so many times before it runs out.
And so we must ground ourselves, energize ourselves, and relax, not just at notable intervals, but throughout the day. Bush draws upon her own experiences to demonstrate what it looks like to create a “circle of care” and connect yourself to a larger helping community, and to do a “doorknob confession,” reminding yourself why you do this work, or “counteracting negativity with a positive debriefing.” She guides us to view nature, face criticism more openly, and use our environment as a place of nourishment. For relaxation, Bush targets our nervous system with exercises that use sound, progressive muscle relaxation, stretching, breathing, and even acupressure — all things we can do right before our most challenging client walks through the door.
Bush’s approach is unique in that not only does she take the journey with us — through all of the stages of denial, fatigue, contemplation, and action that probably describe self-care — but she also breaks each exercise into bite-size chunks. She knows we are averse to giving these moments to ourselves, and she makes them easier to swallow. Her conversational and inviting tone, descriptive stories, and real-life examples can help us implement self-care on a micro-level. And that’s going to help us a lot more than waiting for that desperately needed trip to Hawaii.
Simple Self-Care for Therapists: Restorative Practices to Weave Through Your Workday
W. W. Norton & Company, June 2015
Hardcover, 304 pages