I have long thought that there should be a self-care module within physiotherapy training. Here is why.
Physiotherapy is arguably the best job in the world. Once qualified there are so many choices and ways that you can take ownership and forge a way forward.
I believe that there is a universal desire to contribute within the profession: to help people improve their lives and make it a better world. This in itself is healthy and helps build wellness. The latter is where we can make a real difference as we encourage, empower and enable individuals to shape positive futures — because they can.
There’s a but.
All this focus on helping others requires a strong sense of self and an absolute need for self-caring.
If you want to care for others, you must start by caring for yourself#thepaincoach
There is a good chance that a number of therapists will be great empathisers. They will can can feel similar emotions and even pains described by others. There is a reverberation through their own embodied minds, which in time can cause stress responses and anxiety if not recognised — empathetic distress.
In one sense empathy is a gift that allows connection and understanding. Uncontrolled, this can lead to burnout. The answer to this appears to be cultivating compassion, which is boundless. There is an outlet in compassion that is a desire to help — taking action. When we take action there is a kind of release as we feel a sense of control and destiny with our chosen way of helping the person. (Whether they want our help and the kind of help we offer is another question! This is one of the skills of being a therapist).
A common way to practice compassion is with metta, or the loving kindness meditation. We develop our understanding and acceptance of ourselves, accepting that to take care of ourselves is the first step in caring for others.
This sits well with the person-first approach: person before patient. Certainly when it comes to pain, it is the person that feels pain, not the body part. We guide and encourage a person, not a body system or a limb. Zoom out.
The more the focus is on the place that hurts, the worse the outcome for a number of reasons: e.g./ attention and expectation play significant roles in pain perception. The more the focus is upon the person and what they want to achieve in their life, the better the outcome.
Each person has resources, knowledge, strengths and the potential to improve their lives. This is the start point, not a list of problems to solve.
It is the same for the therapist of course. A person with all the above.
How do you build yours each day?
To care for others we need to be well. Daily skills and practices that manage and lift our energy, help us to pay attention, maintain a positive outlook will keep us on a healthy path.
These are habits. Many are the same ones that we encourage the people we work with to create.
When I used to run Pain Coaching sessions for clinicians and therapists, we always start with you: ‘know thyself’. There is nowhere else to start. You have to gain insight into who you are, how you think and what you offer. From there you can build and be the architect of a fantastic career.
There are many ways to build wellness. The more obvious include exercise, moving your body, eating and sleeping well. There are more.
Connecting with people who encourage you, getting out into nature, knowing your purpose, breathing and being present more often.
As a start, I have created an infographic that you can use in your own way (download above).
My hope is that we see universities and colleges increasingly include self-care in the syllabus. Some methods and techniques are now outdated and should move aside, making room for the important practices. In my view, there is none more important that making sure therapists feel supported and that they are developing a strong sense of who they are as healthcare professionals.
Training is a huge investment, both personally and for the state. Surely then, we must ensure that the people undertaking this enormous commitment come first and are cared for by teaching them how they can care for themselves.
University lecturers and leaders, I am here to chat.