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Self-Care the Key to Caring for Others 

February 28, 2014

Self-Care Workshop“Self-care is so important to my field because of the burnout rate,” said Jenny Sacks, a 2012 graduate of the Master’s in Couple and Family Therapy Program and a therapist in the Thomas Jefferson University Health System. “You’ll hear from your colleagues that they need a vacation or that they just can’t handle their caseload,” she continued. “We tell our clients about the importance of self-care and then we don’t do it ourselves.”

Fatigue and burnout are common across many health professions, which is why Sacks and fellow Couple and Family Therapy graduate Mary Ingram decided to create an event to promote different modes of self-care. Together they designed the Self-Care for Healers Workshop, a retreat-like day of self-care sessions that included massage therapy, improv, music therapy, art therapy, and even a session on sex therapy, which Sacks described as “a little out there” but that attracted 90% of workshop attendees. “I was left with a different appreciation and understanding of how important sex is; it is a part of self-care,” Sacks said. While the session understandably began with a level of discomfort, the presenter used humor to help attendees open up about the topic.

Sacks says that there are many different ways in which we can care for ourselves, and that the self-care activities you choose are a matter of personal preference. “For me it might be massage therapy or reading a book. For someone else it might be different,” she said. Ingram especially appreciated the music therapy session that took place during the morning portion of the event. "I was introduced to concepts that I had never thought about before. It opened my eyes in terms of what mindfulness and meditation with music can be like," she said.

Why is self-care so important? “Feeling good and rebooting means we can go back to work energized to do what we do,” said Sacks. We tend to take good care of everyone but ourselves, so stepping back to take care of us allows us to do our work well. It is the key to helping others.

When Ingram first envisioned the retreat, she had mostly fellow Couple and Family Therapy alumni in mind as her target audience. Then she realized, "Here we are in all of these different disciplines, all of which overlap and all of which pertain to the overall health of any one person (either the patient we work with or ourselves)," Ingram said. "The work we do sometimes isolates our professions from one another. So instead of operating as best we can on our own, connecting those areas will develop a referral system and knowledge base. We can lean on each other both professional and personally to the greater benefit to both us and the patients we work with." Ingram and Sacks decided it would be best to open up the event to people in any healthcare discipline. 

Over fifty health professionals from different fields attended the workshop, which was was made possible through the dedication and commitment of Kathleen Nash, a professor in the Couple and Family Therapy Program, Phi Nguyen, Director of Center City Student Affairs, and Laura Valenti, Executive Director for College Engagement at the College of Nursing and Health Professions.

Ingram and Sacks plan to make the Self-Care for Healers Workshop a regular annual event at the College and even want to open it up to attendees from across the entire University. "We are looking to make it longer and turn it into a multi-day retreat," Ingram said. Even though this year’s workshop featured networking opportunities, the workshop leaders hope to focus even more on these community connections in future workshops. “We need those connections not just for finding employment, but also for our sanity. It’s refreshing when we have time to talk about our field and how challenging it is with people who understand firsthand,” Sacks said.

"The feedback we received from participants spoke to how powerful an experience this was for them. They talked about how much they're looking forward to the event again next year," Ingram ended. The two alumnae are already beginning to plan for next year's Self-Care for Healers Workshop.