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Self-Care as an Ethical Practice

Self-care is often thought of as engaging in practices, activities, or hobbies as a way to enjoy or restore oneself. However, in a recent article Dr. Jeffrey Barnett and Grace Homany, from Loyola University Maryland, discuss how self-care benefits have important implications for mental health providers that extend beyond the self to our clients, co-workers, and communities. Importantly, these authors note that engaging in meaningful self-care practices are aligned with the ethics code of the American Psychological Association’s ethics code. For mental health professionals, work stressors at the individual and systems levels necessitate the need for routine self-care assessment and practice. Both internal and external assessment practices are needed to fully meet our self-care needs to maximize competence and decrease burnout. Barnett and Homany encourage providers to look beyond self-care as an activity and, instead, to view it as an approach to life that includes attitudes, values, and behaviors.

A culture of self-care serves to benefit the provider, people served, colleagues, and communities, while also minimizing the buildup of stressors over time. An important component of this work is framing self-care as part of clinical competency, noting that when neglected, a lack of self-care practice can result in myriad consequences, including burnout, compassion fatigue, exhaustion, and inadequate rest, all of which impact clinical care. Barnett and Homany recommend that self-care activities and routines should focus on four domains: physical, relational, emotional, and spiritual. Self-care includes activities and routines that support a healthy diet, physical activity, rest, and social engagement. Timing and accessibility should be considered when building a routine. When developing a self-care plan, follow these guidelines:

  1. Identify personal and professional stressors and how they are impacting you.
  2. Acknowledge current self-care practices and areas for growth. This includes identifying potentially unhelpful practices.
  3. Consult with colleagues about steps one and two to identify other potential needs.
  4. Consider balance and sustainability. This includes weighing the benefits of the activity with potential costs such as time or cost.
  5. Build a community of colleagues to help remain accountable to self-care.

Importantly, self-care is not “one-size-fits-all.” Individuals should aim to be intentional about incorporating activities that address stressors experienced both professionally and personally. Opting for activities that can be engaged in daily or weekly without adding undue burden should be prioritized. Since stressors and contexts change, self-care routines should be evaluated periodically.

Check our wellness self care plan: https://alcoholstudies.rutgers.edu/wp-content/uploads/Wellness_SelfCare_Plan.pdf

Source: Barnett, J. E., & Homany, G. (2022). The new self-care: It’s not all about you. Practice Innovations, 7(4), 313-326. https://doi.org/10.1037/pri0000190