Self-Care in My First Year of Private Practice
by Taylor A. Moss, LMFT
As I ventured out into the great world of private practice I had all sorts of visions on what the job would look like – complex cases that I would need to unpack with my supervisor, endless networking meetings to get my name into an already competitive market. Yet, what ended up being the most important aspect of surviving my first year in private practice was unexpected: the vital importance of self-care.
Others had preached this gospel, so maybe my determination and zeal made me slightly naïve, but I had to hit multiple walls to recognize why self-care was so important and how to put self-care into practice:
Wall #1 – I do not have an endless amount of energy. Coming off of grad school I thought I could knock down a 3rd cup of coffee and keep on moving, until I came home one night crying uncontrollably. I quickly realized that I needed to care for, listen to, and respect my body and its limits. I had to adjust to working as a therapist – get extra sleep when needed, put boundaries around my schedule, make exercise apart of my routine, and honor time to unplug. Without a rhythm to life that balances my health not only am I disserving my clients, I’m also not modeling what I encourage them to seek.
Wall #2 – This work cannot be done alone. In my first year in private practice I was thankful for my natural tendency to seek lots of support, which I ended up needing desperately. A strong supervisor was vital when most of my supervision centered on self-of-the-therapist issues. A caring consultation group allowed me to decompress when I needed it the most. Family and friends not associated with therapy allowed me to leave the work for a while and connect back to the other parts of who I am. I had to create, nurture and lean on a foundation of support for myself.
Wall #3 – I’m too maxed out from graduate school to learn anything new. Post graduation my eyes were sore, my bookshelves were full, and I just could not pick up one more book. I thought I would “take a break” from learning for the year. Yet, I quickly realized that by staying in touch with mentors, colleagues and classmates I could keep learning without needing to write a paper. When I had questions, I made mistakes, needed to learn about a topic I wasn’t familiar with I would talk with my support system and learn through conversation and mentorship. By creating a new understanding of learning I was able to continue growing as a therapist.
Wall #4 – My work is unique, and unlike most other “hard day at the office” stories. In my first year of practice I had to adjust to the fact that being a therapist is unique work – it requires a skill set that often time takes experience to learn. For example, a growing edge of mine is learning the delicate balance of showing compassion to my clients while remaining detached from their outcomes. This has been the topic of many supervision sessions, consultation groups, and individual conversation with colleagues. Yet, this is a hard concept to talk about at a dinner party. I had to realize that my knowledge, training, and the stories of my clients create a different lens to look at the world with. I had to learn to be proud of my growth, and incorporate it back into the other areas I live life.
Hitting these four walls has been a process that unfolded a stronger clinician and a more integrated person. Yet, they were and are all each painful and surprising when run into. The first year of private practice brought with it many personal triumphs (the first month I covered my expenses) and also plenty of moments to learn and grow from. Recognizing these walls helps me care for myself as a person and therapist to help sustain the work I do in my office.
Taylor A. Moss is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy Associate and Certified Sign Language Interpreter in Seattle, Washington, specializing in premarital and couples counseling, and counseling in sign language. You can learn more about Taylor’s private practice by visiting her website, and following her @tam_mft and on Facebook.
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