by Bianka Hardin, Psy. D.
Over a decade ago, I was at a trauma conference and noticed and bought two books that have impacted the course of my career. The books, “Healing Healing Developmental Trauma: How Early Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image, and the Capacity for Relationship” by Dr. Lawrence Heller and Aline LaPierre and The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions.
I am a trauma therapist. I have been interested in trauma since my first therapy training in graduate school. I have been fascinated with how we are impacted by and heal from trauma. Most of my training has been focused on how to understand trauma and how to work with a client who has been traumatized. There was little focus on the therapist, the therapist’s trauma, the therapist’s self-care, or how the therapist is impacted by the work.
Trauma and our role
I understand better now how important the therapist is in this work. The relationship is bidirectional and the work impacts not only the client but also the therapist in so many ways. What I didn’t know then and understand so much better now is the importance of therapists doing their own work and really taking care of themselves.
When I say this, I am not only referring to taking breaks, getting massages, and going on vacation. I am referring to the act of taking care of ourselves that involves a deep understanding of our inner world and process and really understanding our relationship with ourselves. I believe this important inner work is the foundation of being a really good, intentional, and aware therapist.
As therapists, we often read books to learn more about the clients we encounter with a desire to learn therapeutic tools that will improve our clinical work. What I see more clearly now is that we are the tool and the relationship is the context where deep healing can occur. Thus, it is important that we learn more about ourselves and have an awareness of how our inner landscape impacts the therapeutic relationship and the effectiveness of the work.
How self-understanding and self-care make us better therapists
Alas, I am on a deep self-reflective and self-compassionate healing journey as a result of my enhanced understanding of developmental trauma and its impact on both my clients and myself. I have a better awareness and appreciation of my countertransference and its impact on my work. I see more clearly how we relate to ourselves and understand our reactions impact the therapeutic relationship and the connection to our ability to have compassion for ourselves and our clients.
The literature on self-compassion is focused on how self-compassion can be helpful for clients which it is. There is research to show that forgiving and nurturing yourself can set the stage for better health, relationships, and general well-being. Practicing self-compassion can lead to lower levels of anxiety and depression.
What I am interested in and inviting therapists to do with me is to engage in a process where we learn about self-compassion and mindfulness to benefit us as individuals and as therapists. As therapists, we can relate to ourselves in ways that are mindful or not mindful or compassionate or the opposite of compassionate. Part of therapist self-care is being mindful of these important internal processes.
This is why I have created this Therapist Self-Care Series. This month we will be focusing on therapist self-care and compassion and next month we will be focusing on therapist self-care and mindful somatic interventions. Learn more and register.