Clinical Corner: Understanding Self-Care

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Understanding Self-Care

– Dr. Sadie Bianco – January 2020

Self-care is a vital component of our well-being, and no one understands this more than clinicians.  First, we spend most of our days helping others learn to take better care of themselves.  Second, due to the nature of our work and the needs of the people we serve, if self-care is not effective, burnout or career changes are the unfortunate paths for most clinicians.  So, what is self-care, how do you assess our own self-care, and how can we start a self-care plan?

Self-Care and Oxygen Masks

Let’s start with, self-care is not being selfish.  Many people, especially those of us who are in the helping professional field, feel guilty making time for ourselves.  However, when we are not at our best or stressed and exhausted, we will not be able to give our best at work.

A good metaphor is found when we get on an airplane and during the part of the standard pre-flight announcements, the flight attendant instructions about cabin pressure go something like, “…put your oxygen mask on first before helping others.” Perhaps, this is not the best metaphor because this implies that we would only be implementing self-care during an emergency; however, the point is that we need to be able to breathe to help someone else breathe.  When we are thinking about breathing, self-care does not feel so selfish, right?

We teach the people we serve that they are worth taking care of, sometimes we need to treat ourselves as if we were our own clients.  Ok, so we have established that we deserve self-care.  Now, what is self-care?

Assessing Self-Care

Self-Care is different for everyone, and individually defined by each of us.  However, we do need to have standard categories to assess self-care.  There are many options under the self-care umbrella for us to choose from.  For the purposes of this article, we are going to use’s self-care categories: Professional, Psychological, Spiritual, Emotional, Relationship, and Physical.

Below are some examples of common self-care activities for each category and some helpful PSI-specific suggestions.


  • supervision and/or consultation (This is a free benefit available at PSI, please take advantage of it.)
  • peer-support group (Sunshine Club is a great example of this)
  • boundaries between people we serve and other staff (Examples: do not friend people we serve on social media, do not communicate clinical issues outside of a face-to-face session during regular business hours, define emergencies at onset of clinical relationship)
  • read professional journals (If you are a member of a professional organization, then journals will come monthly with current information relevant to your field.  If you are not a member, and would like journals, see a supervisor, or me to borrow journals.)
  • attend professional trainings (PSI offers trainings across all of the programs, and has access to free outside training through several District, State, and Federal agencies. If you are interested in something specific, inquire with the PSI training director.)


  • journal (We definitely prescribe this for the people we serve, so we must believe it works!)
  • hobby (Examples: dance, cook, garden, art, sports, chess, book club, sew, read, bird watch, etc)
  • turn off your email and work phone outside of work hours (PSI does have on-call for emergencies and if you set boundaries regarding phone calls with the people we serve this should not be a problem.)
  • schedule downtime (Examples: do nothing, take a bath, talk to a friend, meditate, take walks, listen to music)
  • engage with positive people


  • focus on friendships that are supportive and be a supportive friend
  • keep a log of one thing you are grateful for and one thing you did good each day
  • do something you enjoy each day
  • keep meeting with your therapist or other social group
  • talk with someone about how you are coping with work and life demands.


  • meditate
  • participate in reflective walks
  • go to place of worship
  • practice yoga
  • reflect with a close friend for support


  • make close relationships a priority in your life
  • attend the special events of the people important to you (Remember you may not be able to be at every event, but you can attend some and others you can send positive thoughts.)


  • regular sleep routine (You would be surprised how much this makes a difference, try going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time for two weeks!)
  • healthy eating
  • take lunch breaks (I know this is difficult with our schedules, but even if you can get a small break in.)
  • use your sick leave if you are sick and schedule vacations annually (PSI has amazing benefits, you may not realize this until you try out other benefit plans. PSI even has a Mental Health Day.)
  • get some exercise before/after work regularly

Self-Care Plan

After we complete our self-assessment and individually define self-care, then we need to develop own self-care plan.  Developing our own self-care plan is not as easy as it sounds.

Please click here or on the link at the bottom of this article for a template form (PSI Self-Care Plan) adopted from Self-Care Plan for our convenience (, 2019).  However, there are many templates available or you can develop your own plan.  Again, this is individualized, the ultimate and primary goal is that it has to work for us.

  • Tip#1:  After you complete your self-care plan with all of the activities specific to you, save or hang the plan in a common area place for you to see every day (You can find mine on my fridge!).  This needs to be a reminder for us of our commitment to self-care.
  • Tip #2: Some people like to be accountable to other people, so they provide a copy of the self-care plan to a friend or set reminders on their phone (I will definitely need to set reminders on my phone).
  • Tip #3: For self-care to really be implemented, we need to practice regularly and assess the effectiveness.  So, decide on when you will reassess your plan (i.e. every 30 days, every 90 days, every 180 days).  Be realistic, do not make this too much like work or your will not keep it going.

Please see your supervisor, any supervisor, human resources (access EAP), or me if you need assistance with developing a self-care plan.

Check back next week to meet PSI’s Dr. John Ndambuki, LPC, LCPC and see how he makes use of self-care.

Link to PSI Self-Care Plan