|Noticing the end of the day.|
This week we skip ahead in the book to maintaining the therapist's stability and health. There are many elements to this in the book, but on the blog I'll limit myself (for now at least) to the topics for which there is a handout or exercise form.
Keeping work life and home life separate is a problem common to many professions. The classic example is police work: an officer who brings home the professional role and doesn't learn to turn it off is in deep trouble.
Therapists can be similar. The work we do is often emotionally difficult. Our clients are often going through profound trials, and it is the job of the therapist to join them in that journey and provide what help we can. It is all too easy to take the work home with us, think (or worry) about our clients endlessly, and have a negative impact on our own lives as a result.
To prevent this, it helps to create a boundary between our work and home selves. To this end, many of us develop a set of behavioural rituals to take on the mantle of therapist when we arrive in the morning, and take it off when we leave the clinic for home.
The Home to Work Transition
Many of us lead harried existences, so it is easy to find ourselves racing into the clinic, whipping off our coat, and running out to meet the first client of the day. This is a terrible practice, and will ultimately contribute to a sense of burnout.
Instead, we should punctuate the arrival at work with some specific behaviours that symbolize the transition. These can be purely ritualistic (such as meditating on the names of the people we will be seeing that day) or very practical (such as turning on the sound system in the waiting room).
Here are some of the home to work rituals that participants at past Private Practice Made Simple workshops have reported using:
- Visiting a coffee shop and reading the newspaper en route to the office.
- Hanging up the coat.
- Sitting quietly at one's desk for several minutes doing deep breathing.
- Checking all voicemails.
- Tidying the waiting area and/or consulting room.
- Making tea in the office.
- Perusing non-work-related websites such as facebook.
- Reading a favourite psychology-themed blog (I'm serious, they say this).
As part of the Private Practice Made Simple adjunct materials at www.changeways.com, there is a brainstorming sheet to help you describe or develop your own rituals. Here's the link:
The Work to Home Transition
At the end of a long day it's tempting to just flee home and launch into the rest of life. But this can leave the emotions of our clinical work active in our minds. We can carry the urgency, sadness, or anxiety, or the analytical mindset, into our home life. It's best to punctuate the transition with some consciously-designed practices to set aside the clinical day and move into the non-clinical part of our lives.
Here are some of the work to home rituals that workshop participants have reported:
- Cleaning one's desk so that everything is ready for the next day.
- Sitting for a few minutes at the desk before getting up to go home.
- Drive home, park, and sit in the car for 10 minutes before going into the house and having to talk to anyone.
- Walk home, consciously looking at trees and plants along the way and allowing the mind to slow.
- Changing one's clothes completely upon arriving home.
- Playing with the cat (oddly enough, this is one of the most frequently reported activities).
- Walking the dog.
- Creating an image of the work of the day (or the clients seen) being placed inside a glass box for safekeeping.
- Meditating for 15 minutes upon arrival home.
- Having an agreement with spouse that for the first 15 minutes that one is home there is no conversation and no requests for decisions of any kind.
Here is the link to the related brainstorming sheet at www.changeways.com:
To new clinicians these rituals often sound artificial, forced, and of limited usefulness. There is limited intuitive appeal to the idea. But clinicians who make a point of punctuating their transitions tend to report a greater feeling of calm and relaxation, both at work and at home. The therapist and the nontherapist spouse/parent/friend/relaxer are two completely different people. It helps to have some time to make the change.
Even Superman marked the transition by spending time in a phone booth, after all.
* * *
Want more information on operating a private psychotherapy practice?