Looking After Yourself
Patricia Bishop runs a thriving hypnotherapy and healing practice in London. This is a thorough handbook to the complete business of setting up a complementary health practice.
Why is this important?
As a therapist you, more than most people, should be aware of the need for balance in your life and the importance of looking after yourself. Some training courses for complementary therapists encourage their students to check their PEMS state each day.
PEMS stands for:
Monitoring these states on a daily basis and recognising you own needs and requirements seems a good starting point. In order to do our work well, and to get the most satisfaction out of life, we need to be in good health. This means that we need to recognise our own limits, become aware of own vulnerability and actively seek to restore the balance by whatever means necessary.
Keeping home and work life separate
Whether you have a family to look after, or live on your own or with a partner, it is essential that you keep your work life from intruding on the rest of your life. This can be hard to achieve when you are first setting up and there are all kinds of inducements to make you take your work home, or to work very long hours.
To get some order back into your life try the following:
- physically separate your work from your home life
- do not take work home
- have set days and times when you are working
- keep your business phones separate from your home phones.
How can I physically separate my work and home life?
This is easiest if your practice is located outside the home. However, even if you are working from home you can keep the two separate. If you have a room set aside as your therapy room and do not need to use it for any other purpose, make sure you shut and lock the door at the end of your working day and resist any temptation to go back in and do any pre-work on some of your cases. If your therapy room is also a family room, then make sure you lock away all your files, put your phone onto answerphone and shut down the computer –just as you would if you were working from an office. It can also help if you rearrange the furniture, symbolically changing the layout to ‘family’ use.
Leaving work at ‘work’
Whatever your working arrangements are, get into the good mental health practice of leaving your work behind when you have finished for the day. This practice can be made easier if you get into the habit of literally, or symbolically, locking your work away. If your practice is a mobile practice, have a filing cabinet or lockable cupboard at home where everything, and I mean everything, is stored away after use. Don’t take any business calls, or respond to any faxes or emails outside of your working hours. You may also find it helpful to have ten to 15 minutes of quiet time between finishing work and going ‘home’ in order to sit, still your mind, maybe meditate for a while or listen to some music to help you unwind. This can become your ritual for closing down after work each day and it may help you to keep the boundaries distinct.
Boundary setting can also involve setting new rules for your friends and family members. Whether or not you work from home, you are likely to get some friends, or members of your family, who believe it’s alright to phone you while you are at ‘work’ or ask you to deal with some personal requests during your working day. This is generally because you’re no longer seen to be ‘employed’ in the usual sense. You need to be just as tough with friends and family as you would be with clients trying to contact you out of hours. Persistence pays. If you don’t take their phone calls or deal with their other requests, they will eventually be reeducated to your new work boundaries.
Setting your working times
Trying to keep your work and home life separate can be made a lot easier if you set the days of the week you are going to work, and the times. This way you are clear about what constitutes your working day, your clients soon fit into your work pattern and your friends and family will know when they can get in touch. This will also allow you to plan your free time so that you can maintain your social life.
Monitoring your workload
If you haven’t already set yourself a regular work pattern by allocating the days and times when you are at work, the chances are that you may be exceeding the hours you wish to work in a week. To bring your workload back under control you need to:
- keep a record of all your work activities for a week
- take a note of the total time you spent on each activity
- total up the time which you spent in leisure activities
- review your income for the week.
Once you have carried out these activities it will become clear just how much time you spend working; what the work entails; whether you managed to get any free time and just how much working this way earned you in a week.
On reflection, was this a balanced week? Did you keep to your work hours? What did you learn about your work activities – are there some activities that take up a disproportionate amount of your time? If you didn’t manage to get any leisure time, why was that? Was it due to family or work pressures? And for the number of hours that you worked that week, do you think you were adequately paid? If any of these questions is giving you pause for thought, you should investigate the matter further to see what you can change, drop, increase or delegate.
We should all of us have plenty of time for the things we need to do, but so many of us waste it in unnecessary actions. If personal time management has always been a problem for you, you are going to need to learn some new ways of working. Some classic time wasting activities are:
- never letting the phone go onto answerphone
- reading and responding to your emails several times a day
- not replying to your correspondence as soon as you have read it
- trying to find a document which you haven’t filed away
- constantly shifting items or documents because there’s no place to store them
- living in a state of clutter
- starting an activity but not finishing it because something else distracted you.
Do you recognise yourself in any of these? If so, you have a time management problem.
If you can use your time effectively you will be able to get more work done, and if you can get more work done you will potentially earn more; and if you can get more work done you will not have any need to take work home to finish it and will therefore have more free time to spend doing whatever you please. All that is needed is some personal reeducation in order to bring some balance back into your life.
When you are busy working let the phone go onto voicemail, you can always pick your messages up later. If you keep interrupting what you are working on to answer the phone, you will lose your concentration and it will take an extra few minutes for you to effectively get back to your work. If you truly value your work, give it the time and attention it deserves in order that you can complete it and move on.
As a general rule, doing the same activity more than once in a day (if you don’t have to) is a waste of precious time, as is handling anything more than once. So get into the good habit of only reading and responding to your emails and your mail once a day. Make sure you have time to complete these tasks, if you’re not sure how long this will take then leave this activity to a point in the day when you know you will have more time. Anything you can’t manage to complete in one sitting will need to be dealt with the next working day. Following through on the time management principle of handling a document only once means that as soon as you have completed your correspondence, file it. This will save you wasting time searching for any documents which you left lying around and now can’t locate.
The ‘one touch’ principle can also be extended to the movement of furniture or pieces of equipment. Make sure everything you use in your work has a place where it gets stored away. If you haven’t got sufficient or suitable storage then make a decision to get some and discipline yourself to use it. This will also help you to get rid of any clutter, which generally tends to accumulate if your storage space is inadequate or difficult to access. If your workspace is cluttered then you will be in a constant loop of moving things around in order to work and wasting time in the process.
For further information about time management, see Chapter 12.
Looking after your own health and safety
As you are going to be responsible for your own health and safety at work, make sure that your working area is always kept clean and tidy, that there are no cables trailing across the floor which you or your clients could trip over, and that your room is adequately lit, ventilated and heated. Also, ensure that your equipment is fit for purpose and make sure you get any repairs or replacements carried out before things become hazardous.
Siting and using your computer equipment
Remember to follow the computer user guidelines and:
- locate your computer at right angles to any natural light source
- use a screen filter if you suffer glare on the screen from overhead lights
- use a desk lamp if the other lighting in the room is unsuitable
- adjust your monitor until it is at the correct working level to avoid neck and back strain
- use a wrist rest
- don’t work for longer than two hours without taking a break
- make sure that the room is adequately ventilated.
When you are working at the computer make sure you are sitting at the right height. Get a chair which you can adjust to suit your needs and make sure it has castors. The general guidelines for the correct seating position are:
- your foot/calf, calf/thigh, thigh/back and forearm/shoulder angles should be at 90° to each other
- the bottom part of your spine (the lumbar vertebrae) should be in contact with the seat back
- your knees should almost touch the front edge of the seat
- your forearms should be able to rest, or be supported, on a level with the keyboard.
If, once you’ve adjusted the height of your chair your feet don’t fully touch the ground, invest in an adjustable footrest so that your feet and legs are in the most appropriate position while you work. Make sure you are sitting straight whilst working. If you find that you are constantly turning your head in order to work from a book or notes, get a book-rest or paper-stand so that the documents are held closer to your working eye level and thereby minimise the potential strain on your back and neck.
If you aren’t a touch typist – now would be a good time to learn. Free tutorials are often given away with software packages, so try out the software which came with your computer. Also, discipline yourself to use the keyboard shortcuts wherever possible, rather than the mouse, as it is becoming accepted that excessive mouse use is one of the main contributors to RSI (repetitive strain) type injuries.
Holidays and time out
To prevent ‘burn out’ or illness, you need to make time for yourself. Schedule some holidays or long weekends in your diary at the beginning of the year. You may not keep to the dates but it will serve as a reminder to take some time off. If you have children at school, make sure you take some time off during their holidays and this will help you to get into a good routine of regular time off. You could also try working to a six or seven week pattern – allowing yourself to take a long weekend or even a week off at the end of the six weeks’ working period. It’s a practice that has worked well for me. If you take regular breaks it’s often easier to keep up with a full working week and a busy practice, so don’t regard it as an indulgence but more of a necessity.
As well as more formalised time out, don’t neglect your body clock in other ways. If you find yourself flagging after a hectic morning and have some free time after lunch, take a nap. You don’t need to sleep for long, so set your alarm to make sure that you wake up in plenty of time for the next client. If you regularly find that you want to droop around lunchtime, listen to what your body is telling you. It may be you should adjust your working day to reflect this personal ‘down-time’ and allow a nap to become a regular habit. Many therapists change their hours in order to work at the times in the day when they feel more energised.
Therapy work can be one of the most draining and stressful occupations to be in. If you are constantly working with people whose personal energy is low you need to make sure that you have routines in place to re-energise yourself and protect your own energy levels.
Supervision and mentoring
Undergoing personal supervision, or working with a mentor, can help you to offload and deal with any client problems which otherwise might be weighing you down. Your supervisor will usually be a more experienced therapist working in the same treatment areas as yourself and will therefore be best placed to advise you on maintaining your boundaries, taking time out, any further training which may help you to cope more easily with certain aspects of your work and may also work with you in a therapeutic capacity if that is appropriate.
If you don’t already have a supervisor or mentor, get in touch with your training school to see what recommendations they can make. For further information about supervision and mentoring, see Chapter 7.
The more well-rounded and balanced you are as an individual, the better your work will be, the more you will enjoy it and the happier you will be in all areas of your life. In order to achieve this balance you need to ‘think outside the box’. Are there any skills you’ve always wanted to learn or develop which could help to you achieve a greater balance in your life? Or are there any places which you’ve always wanted to visit? Any burning desires that you were prevented from achieving? Think creatively. Wherever you’ve felt a lack of something in your life relates to a potential imbalance.
If you’ve always longed to take singing lessons – why don’t you? After all, not only could this help you to develop and find your own authentic voice, it could also be a means of letting go of some of your emotional issues. Although it may seem somewhat indulgent, fulfilling any ‘lack’ in your life could have a positive effect on your work. If you are now learning to project your voice with ease, you will be able to teach or lecture more effectively because you have taken the strain off your voice.