As a preceptor who takes placement students, I’ve been asked many times about what is missing from curriculum for Occupational therapist and Occupational therapy Assistants. One of the recurring thing that keeps coming up is the importance of reflective practice and self-care as a therapist. I am speaking from occupational therapy as my lens, but I can imagine that this would extend to other therapy professions as well. So if this comment clicks with you let’s continue to explore Reflective practice and personal self-care.
When my students start practice with me, my biggest focus is on accepting feedback and reflecting on your experiences. I also focus on reflecting on your feedback to improve not only as a therapist but to be more aware of your needs as a therapist. After each placement week, my students send me a journal with three learning moments from that week, and their reflections on it. This allows them to really sit down and think about what they learned during the week and how they felt about it, and also to reflect on who they are as a therapist and what they feel like they want to learn for the rest of their placement. It also gives us the opportunity to come together and discuss moments of learning after they have time to sit in process on their own.
I believe that starting a strong reflective practice as a student and then early on in your career can really help you navigate your own emotions and biases and challenges or gaps in knowledge. It allows you to sit down and look at all the things that you can’t learn in school and can really only learn from experience and trial and error.
One of the big reasons that I bring this conversation up is because of the lack of acknowledgement of taking care of yourself as a therapist when I was in school. This may have changed, especially with the recent shift in education due to the pandemic however, I have not heard anything from my students about the shift.
In school as an occupational therapist, we learn about how occupational balance is essential to maintain our health. We learned to discuss with our clients about the amount of occupations or activities that they engage in throughout the day that are in the category of productivity, leisure, and self-care. We are also taught that if there is too much of one kind of occupation compared to another, our body is at risk for illness whether that be physical or mental. As individuals who work to support other people, it surprises me that exploring our own self care occupations as an occupational therapist is not part of the school system. My eyes were really opened to self-care as a therapist in my third and final placement in my masters degree. My preceptor at the mental health day program that I worked at noticed that there were some days in which I would come to program, very overwhelmed before the day already started. She brought this up to me and we discussed the pattern of days and discovered that one of my clients was triggering me because his behaviour reminded me of a previous ex. From this discussion, my preceptor encouraged me to make building a self-care and debriefing routine as one of my learning objectives. I took the time each day that summer to explore different self-care strategies and ways to debrief and decompress after my placement shift so I can have that balance of leisure, self-care, and productivity.
This exploration with my preceptor really opened my eyes to how unprepared I was to step away from work and from my client, so that I could enjoy the time to myself when I was not working. As an empathetic individual this was so important and has been so important to my mental health and well-being. As I started my career, I realized that I had to take my self-care one step further and learn how to set work life balance boundaries, so that I was not constantly working after my paid hours are completed. This is an extremely difficult task, but it also allowed me to realize where I function best as an individual.
Some thing that I share with my students when we were talking about future careers is that the beauty of occupational therapy is how many different jobs you can explore to find where you truly fit. For me, I learned my anxiety spiked when I had to do home visits multiple times a day and I didn’t like driving from house to house. I also did better with a set schedule working 8 to 4 where I was able to close my computer and move on to something different. I also learned that I work best in a company where I have contact frequently with other employees so that I can discuss my challenges, reflect with them and know that I have that support behind me. Taking the time to self reflect when you are having challenges in your role can help you figure out if there is a solution to your problem, if you need to find some support or mentorship, or if perhaps, this isn’t the right fit for you.
I am currently working on some prompts and worksheets that you can use as a therapist to guide your self reflection and exploration of self-care. With the multiple roles that I play right now, I don’t have the time to put it together as I would like to, but once it is completed in future posts, I will be sure to share.
I do have a worksheet here that I use with my clients for reflection, this is a simple sheet you can use as prompts for yourself if you please!
In the meantime, a suggestion for journalling and self reflection is thinking of a few learning opportunities, or challenging moments that you’ve experienced throughout your work day or week. Think about what came up, what you observed or assessed, and what solutions you may have come up with or could have come up with if this happened again. If you are someone that likes back and forth conversation, you can leave your learning opportunities in the comments, as long as they are general and maintaining confidentiality of your clients 🙂