Have you tried to make changes to your schedule, your routine, but you just keep beating your head against the wall? Take self-care, for instance. You feel guilty for taking time for yourself. You feel guilty for not taking time for yourself (especially when you know it’s what you should be doing (and what you recommend to your clients or to others you love and/or help). It feels like you can’t win. Or maybe you’ve had an overall sense of feeling stressed, distracted, discouraged, spread thin. You may feel alone, betrayed, confused, disenchanted with people in general. You may feel like you’re struggling, even failing, in parts of your life. You may feel like what you do is never enough, that who you are is never enough.
Affirmations and positive thinking can be helpful to some degree, but sometimes they just don’t cut it. Sometimes the issue is deeper, more intricately embedded into the fabric of our thinking, our way of being in the world. That’s where deeper compassion and a curiosity about our internal barriers is needed to get to know these parts that hold our beliefs—the very ones that may be blocking us from living life fully awake, fully embodied, fully free.
You may be saying, “OK. I can relate to all of that. And being fully awake, embodied, and free sounds amazing. But is that even possible, Carolyn? And self-compassion? That sounds great as a concept, but it’s so hard to wrap my brain and heart around. Where do I even start? And how can working with you possibly help me in this process?” (Click here for more information on my approach to see if we might be a good fit!)
As therapists, we often give lip service to self-care and even to the idea of being in therapy of our own. Most of us were a part of graduate programs that either strongly encouraged or mandated therapy as a part of our professional education. It makes complete sense for us to go through this process ourselves to know our blind spots, know our own stories, do our own healing work and self-care. But after this requisite counseling, so many of us decided (for whatever reason) that episodes of our own treatment (be it regular or seasonal) were not a priority anymore. Why is this?
What keeps us therapists from seeking therapy?
- Perhaps it’s the busyness of life? The careers we manage, the families we are tending to, the thousands of events and activities that eat up our daily time, the technology that beckons us with distraction and instant gratification, the incessant juggling and balancing of it all.
- Perhaps we are in a work culture or agency that actually discourages self-care and self-reflection? Pushing through, overriding our own needs, and “taking one for the team” can wind up turning into a system that glamorizes self-neglect.
- Perhaps we dive so fully into navigating the inner worlds of our clients that we feel disinterested with or distracted from navigating our own inner world? Our energy is so spent after helping someone else do their deep soul work that we bypass our own.
- Perhaps it’s that our self-care regimens, our self-knowledge, and our ability to manage life, love, loss, and stress all on our own are so out of this world that we don’t ever feel the need for another episode of therapy or professional support.
- Perhaps it’s a little (ahem) pride? (Dare I say hubris?)
I can speak candidly to these ponderings, as I have been there myself with all of these. (Minus the 4th one, that is. PLEASE introduce me to that person that has it all together when you find him or her!)
It leaves me wondering: How are we supposed to help others heal when we haven’t tended to our own wounds and truly listened to our own stories? Does therapy over the course of a few semesters of our education and training do the trick? Are we “good to go” for the rest of our careers after we’ve checked off that box? Unfortunately, I was one of the good-intentioned but naive helpers that believed this (maybe not overtly, but I certainly wasn’t taking the time to seek out my own counseling).
Pride. Time. A subtle, but very powerful, belief that others’ needs were more important than my own.
When I returned to therapy after my own wake-up call, I started to delve into my own process around self-care and my own beliefs, stories, and barriers in this area. The reality is that when I started to care for myself (TRULY care for myself—not just an occasional token massage, bubble bath, or green smoothie), that’s when I recognized how passionate I was about spreading this good news to other helpers—those who serve professionally by trade or those who have landed in this role due to life circumstances. I want you helpers, healers, creatives, and other deep-feeling people-lovers out there to know that there is hope and that a radical shift can happen.
Self-care is not a petty, trivial, nonessential, and frivolous add-on to your to-do list. It is absolutely essential to our existence as human beings and is integral to our credos as helping professionals.
And in fact, to help better articulate the very non-fluffy essence of this philosophy of tending to our bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits, I prefer the term self-nourishment to self-care. Self-nourishment more aptly reflects the deep, rich, indispensable nature of this vital soul work.
A THERAPIST’S THERAPIST
Because I have truly shined the light on myself in the area of self-nourishment (after flirting with my own burnout and compassion fatigue), I can show up for all of my clients–including other therapists, helpers, and healers–with a renewed sense of self, a heart wide open to walk the healing path with them.
And even when the exploration and transformation process around this has been difficult, humbling, and downright painful at times, the result has brought a deeper treasuring of and acceptance of myself (all of me). And this deeper self-love has genuinely made me a better, more present, more attuned therapist, mother, wife, friend, and person in general. (Put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others with their masks.)
The reality is that self-nourishment isn’t really selfish at all! Because of the dynamic shift it causes in our own energy and capacity to be present and emotionally and physically available for others, it’s often one of the most giving things we can offer to our loved ones, those we serve, and the world at large.
Even if you’re not a therapist or counselor, I enjoy and have experience in working with helping professionals of all kinds–doctors, nurses, other mental health clinicians, spiritual leaders, teachers, community activists, non-profit organizers, etc. And then there are caregivers and parents (who I also love to work with). Although they may not be getting paid to be of service to their loved ones, they are the ultimate 24-7 helpers! In addition, I have experience with and a special place in my heart for working with other musicians, artists, or anyone who would consider themselves a creative.
I absolutely resonate with the sentiments in Ray’s quote.
Music seems to weave into just about every breath of my life. It’s my lifeblood, my medicine, my solace, my bliss.
And this includes the work I do as a therapist. I have walked the healing path with many others who would call themselves creatives–musicians, dancers, writers, painters, tattoo artists, woodturners, jewelry makers, graphic designers, chefs, gardeners, and more.
I also believe in the innate creativity that lies in everyone–whether we are aware of it or it is hidden or perhaps dormant. In other words, I believe all human beings are wired for creativity–to both create and to appreciate beauty, whatever form it may take. We are all artists at heart. But we may have yet to truly discover it or claim it.
***An important side note: Just to relieve anyone’s performance anxiety, weaving together music and therapy does NOT mean that you will ever be put on the spot to sing or play an instrument in session. It may be as simple as us talking about various creative outlets as self-care or the sharing of recorded songs that may be relevant to your therapy process. It’s worth noting that this is not music therapy. It is the use of music (and the arts in general) as an agent in the healing process. And there is no singing or instrument-playing required!***
COMBINING MUSIC AND THERAPY
As far as how my own personal musical experience has been involved in my work as a therapist, here are a few ways it has shown up through the years and in my therapy office:
- In group therapy settings, I’ve learned that the sharing of music with each other as group members is often an excellent way to express where words alone fall short, especially when the shared topic is sensitive or sacred. It’s a way to more delicately (and sometimes accurately) share vulnerable pieces of who we are in a way that can often feel safer and more poignant than through spoken word alone.
- Similar to how it can be used in group experiences, in individual therapy settings, music can be a way to convey that which seemingly cannot be conveyed. Certain songs have a way of being incredibly powerful representatives of the different parts that we carry, so we may use it as a way to process and witness our stories–a way to embrace and express both our light and our shadows.
- I helped to start a local chapter of Guitars For Vets in 2011 when I was working exclusively with combat veterans (doing group and individual psychotherapy). And time after time, I observed the positive, therapeutic, soul-nourishing impact of music on the lives of the veterans I worked with. Often times, it was music alone that could express the gut-wrenching pain and indomitable hope–a message that often seemed out of reach with mere words alone.
- A few other ways music has been a part of my work with clients and in the field:
- I have helped facilitate trainings for other health care providers on the Healing Power of the Arts.
- I have composed and shared songs that have been a part of the therapeutic process for the clients I’ve worked with.
- I have helped other musicians and artists to clear blocks by helping to invite clarity, curiosity, and calm into their inner world–an experience that can often result in profound creative inspiration that emerges from within one’s self.
I believe so strongly in the healing power of music in my own life. And I have seen it promote growth in my clients in rich, magical, and profound ways. There is so much more to share on this incredible topic.
Stay tuned for more on how some of the following concepts can be integral aspects of the weaving together of music, soul-nourishment, and the healing process:
- live music as an enrapturing sensory experience,
- soul exploration and befriending various facets of ourselves through song,
- the science and intuition behind music’s transcendental healing powers,
- and the cultivation of deeper physical, emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual health through resonant rhythms, melodies, and lyrics.