Barbara Markway Ph.D.

Shyness Is Nice

5 Self-Care Pillars for Helping Professionals

The path of service is not sustainable without a self-care system.

Posted Jun 20, 2018

Today’s post is an interview with Ellen Rondina, the author of a new book called Self-Care Revolution. It's an important book I wish I'd had when I started my career as psychologist. 

Ellen Rondina, used with permission
Source: Ellen Rondina, used with permission

Barb:  What’s the story behind your new book, SELF-CARE REVOLUTION?

Ellen:  Helping professionals who have committed their life to serving others are committed to an ethical practice that includes self-care, but we are living in a time of increased violence, fear, anxiety, and a time of dwindling resources to the people and places who need them the most.

So the work of these helping professionals: teachers, social workers, mental health and other health providers, clergy, first responders, leaders supporting others, and those who are on the front lines, is getting so much harder. 

Our work stressors and demands and the lack of focus and support around Self-Care has made it difficult for helping professionals to practice Self-Care in any kind of sustained and meaningful way. 

We are: 

  • working longer hours
  • have more clients
  • are faced with increased need of an aging population 
  • a growing opioid addiction epidemic, 
  • school shootings that are in the daily news
  • Just to name a few tangible stressors, and helping professionals are on the front lines.

Barb:  How did you come to write this book? What is your personal story with Self-Care?

Ellen:  I have been on my own path of Self-Care, wellness, and healing for more than thirty years, following an early childhood with a mix of wonderful love and opportunities and also significant stress and trauma

In response to this environment, I spent a lot of time thinking about these two opposing experiences coexisting and what it meant. I thought a lot about relationships and human behavior and wellness and spirituality and what I believed about it all. I also ruminated on social justice issues like poverty, violence, and disease, and why people might experience these. I spent hours lying in bed as a child thinking about these concepts and acting them out by myself, taking on different roles and creating new possibilities. 

I also got sick both physically and emotionally and began a biofeedback and guided imagery program at the age of sixteen. This was my first experience with meditation and learning to mindfully be aware of my body and my body’s response to my mind. I started going to acupuncture three times a week and was taking herbs and learning more about a natural way of healing. 

My very early path of search and discovery eventually led me to a master’s degree in social work, a professional coaching certificate, a ministerial degree, and expertise in several healing modalities. I have worked in universities, private schools, nonprofit organizations, public schools, and with my own business, and all of my life’s work and my formal education has a foundation of wellness and Self-Care. I have observed colleagues and agencies and the system of helping professions, and listened to others’ stories of exhaustion and overload and roadblocks to self-care and this has all given me insight. 

Barb:  Why do you call it a ‘Revolution’?

Ellen:  I believe this path of wellness and Self-Care and love is one of the most important and foundational directions we can walk to change the course of fear and violence we are on right now. Self-Care is not just some nice, warm and cozy concept where we drink tea, attend an occasional yoga class or check off ‘getting together with a friend’ from our list of Self-Care to-dos. Self-Care, if revolutionized, means a fundamental change in our way of relating to ourselves and to one another. It means a fundamental change in our health care system and in our legislation and regulations. 

If we are determined and committed to being well, to loving ourselves and to loving one another, we change the course of action. This is a Revolution!

Barb:  How do you think your book might solve this common challenge of practicing sustained self-care? How do we get out of the mode of ‘business as usual’ when it comes to the rhetoric of self-care in practice?

Ellen:  Business as usual is self-care as an intervention only when something goes really wrong and self-care is the fall back obvious response. In this scenario, Self-Care becomes a desperate attempt at a break from a too-stressful unhealthy life or work situation. 

Business as usual is thinking about self-care from a distance, as something you are supposed to do and you know it’s important, but you haven’t really thought about it or made any kind of plan for it, so there is no context or structure or accountability because there is no foundation of understanding of what self-care can be and no plan for it. 

I believe it is an act of justice to take one’s health and wellness so seriously that you build your life and work around it. This is also part of the Revolution.

The path of being of service is simply not sustainable without a self-care system deeply embedded. 

Helping professionals need permission to have self-compassion and self-love in order to be of service in the increasing ways they are being asked to be. 

Barb: Do you offer a particular system for applying these ideas into practice?

Ellen:  Yes. I provide pillars to create a foundation for self-care in a tangible, action-oriented way.

These pillars are action based, rather than theoretical.

Pillar #1: Define self-care. We cannot understand self-care or practice self-care without defining it for oneself. In all my years as a student, practicing professional, or professor I have never been asked to define self-care for myself.  That intentional step has potential to change someone’s behavior immediately. 

Pillar #2: Writing a values statement. We think and act as human ‘doings’, rather than human ‘beings’. We write mission statements and action statements. We talk about what we do. We rarely talk about why. I believe that as helping professionals, we must value wellness enough that we build our life and professional practice around self-care. If we have a value statement that includes wellness and Self-Care, that will guide our behaviors.

Pillars #3 and 5: Having a plan and supporting others with their plan. These pillars are based on things like being more than 90% likely to reach your goals if you write them down and being more than 70% likely to reach your goals if you have a system of accountability with another person. 

Part of Pillar#3: Create a plan to identify barriers. That is a crucial step to making a behavior change that most people miss. Consequently, when they come across a barrier, they fail in their intended change because they didn’t expect it and don’t have a plan to get around it. 

Pillar #4: Recognize Impairment and Focus on Prevention. If you don’t understand the red flags of burnout and professional impairment, they could be very difficult to recognize. Having a concrete knowledge and understanding of one’s professional and ethical responsibilities will help create the foundation for prevention, and self-care is at the heart of prevention.

Ellen Rondina, used with permission
Source: Ellen Rondina, used with permission

People have a hard time getting out of theirs heads and putting into practice what they know they need to do. These self-care pillars are doable for everyone and will catapult helping professionals on their self-care path, which in turn changes how they practice professionally, which in turn provides more exceptional services to the growing needs of the people in our country.

You can learn more about Ellen's work on her website.

You can purchase Self-Care Revolution here.