For service providers such as massage therapists, burnout, fatigue and self-doubt are very real issues. When serving a group like veterans, therapists may be facing a steady stream of challenging clients who are working through injuries, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder or military sexual trauma.
You get tired. You can wonder if you are making a difference. You may doubt yourself.
You are not weak if you need rest. Asking for help does not mean you have failed.
I am lucky enough to work with Clear Path for Veterans, an organization that has a very open and forward-thinking approach to serving veterans, active military, guard reserve and their families.
Our organization is comprised of numerous program areas that together offer holistic warrior care. I work in the wellness program where we offer a host of integrative medicine modalities.
I believe that one aspect that sets us apart from other organizations is our focus on self-care and regard for the well-being of those who are providing services.
Our wellness practitioners have come to know that Veteran clients often require an extra measure of care. Not all veterans or active service members suffer from severe conditions or injuries, but those who are hurt, often hurt deeply and require special accommodation.
Our veteran massage training program asks a lot from the practitioners, and a career in this specialized field will continue to demand that the practitioner goes above and beyond what may be asked of them in dealing with the general population.
Self-Care at Work
As a staff, we look out for each other. We have all told others and have been told, “Hey, I think you need a break.” It is not uncommon to have a supervisor tell a staff member that he or she has a mandatory massage, polarity or marma session.
Likewise, others will also put supervisors on the schedule. When the executive team avoids the wellness wing for too long, a practitioner may invite him- or herself into a board meeting and start massaging shoulders.
Taking care of the body is largely understood to be important because it is something massage therapists are constantly telling their clients—but do we always understand the importance of taking care of our heads?
In my program area, we incorporate mindfulness, meditation and journaling into our menu of offerings. Using journaling as a tool to reconnect and organize your thoughts serves as a very powerful and effective method of self-care.
Journal for Self-Care
Journaling is a great practice for caregivers and service providers because you can take it anywhere, you can do it in whatever amount of time you have and it is an ever-accessible resource. You can take yourself out for coffee, grab a piece of scrap paper or start a note on your phone.
Part of my job entails writing specialized journaling prompts that help participants work through a specific idea or theme. I try to help them get out of thinking ruts, to be honest with themselves and achieve a measure of clarity and calmness. I’m going to share three of my favorite prompts to help get your mind back in order.
Honor your Thoughts
I heard once that if you have a song stuck in your head, the best way to make it stop is to listen to it. Indulging the song in your head will put it to rest.
The same is true for any thought or emotion that plays repeatedly in our minds. Do not bat it away and pretend like it’s not pestering you. Stop and take a minute to honor it, and it will likely fade away.
Take a break from your daily routine, and let your mind go. What pops up right away? Do you envision a client with whom you had a frustrating session? Is there a friend or family member who has been on your mind? Maybe your mind draws up a collection of positive exchanges you have had over a course of time. That idea points to a new opportunity for growth.
Think in terms of specifics. Try to assess your attitude toward each item. Come up with one action you can take to produce an outcome you desire.
I’m not having success with this client. I’m annoyed, but I really have not changed my technique on the table. I think trying a new approach could help.
I keep remembering my kids saying that they miss me. I have clients booked every day of the week. Maybe I need to make a change to my schedule.
I keep thinking about how rewarding it was to work with female veterans. I feel like I connect with them, and I like that. Maybe it’s time to shift the focus of my practice.
“It is far more difficult to murder a phantom than reality.” Virginia Woolf said this, and I agree. Sometimes we can get so caught up in life that we lose our grip on what we need and why we are acting a certain way.
Thinking in broad strokes, step back and try to find patterns in thought, emotion and behavior. You will likely discover an area that needs our time and focus. When you work to define the root cause of your behavior, you can then begin to make a positive change.
I have been yelling at everyone lately. My co-workers, my kids, my spouse. Am I afraid of not being heard? Is this my way of making people listen? I need to work on my communication.
I have been a little too generous with my services lately. Anyone who asks for a massage gets one whether it’s after work, on a day off, at a family function. I need to say no more. I need to set better boundaries.
When people compliment me, I never accept their kind words. When I make a mistake, I beat myself up. I think I need to learn to respect myself and have more confidence.
John Keats said that a person achieves greatness when they are able to “remain in uncertainties, mysteries and doubts without any irritable reaching after fact or reason.” It is important to remember that being uncertain does not mean that you can’t have confidence.
In the wake of a mystery, we can move forward. The presence of doubt does not cancel out your joy. Trust that the service you are providing is making a difference even when you can’t see a result.
Whether you find a book of prompts or simply take a mental break once in a while, calming your mind will help you to feel at rest even if life is swirling around you. Self-care is an important component to providing excellent service to others.
Check in with your brain and body regularly, and remember that health and wellness is just as important for you as it is for your clients.
Kayleen Wilkinson, M.Ed. works in the Wellness program at Clear Path for Veterans in Chittenango, New York. Clear Path partnered with Crouse Hospital to establish Caring Hands, Caring Hearts, the nation’s first National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-approved veteran massage continuing education credit program. The Wellness program offers numerous integrative medicine modalities to active military, reserve, guard, Veterans and their families and caretakers.