Self-care. Self-care? Self-care! Self-care ..

A much-discussed topic lately that sounds so easy is: taking care of yourself. But what is it in practical terms, what is it for you and where do you get the time from work, social life, partner, a family? And why would you do it? What are the consequences of not taking good care of yourself? Which form of self-care is right for you? These are all questions that are good to ask yourself and that we all know are important, but are the ones that we skip or only answer vaguely.

Knowing and feeling

I am now writing about this subject because in general I think it is important to take good care of myself, but certainly also as a therapist in which you lend your thinking and emotional capacity to the person sitting across from you every session. Moreover, the idea is that we can be a certain example for the person on the other side of the consultation room (or for our children, colleagues, etc.). I also find this topic relevant now because of the enormous change in work and home environment that we have undergone in recent months due to the COVID-19 situation. Especially then it is important to know and feel what you need to take care of yourself.
My idea is that we only see the need for certain behavior when there really is no other option. Only then you start to understand why you are doing something and what the consequences are of an unhelpful trait. In addition, non-helping behaviour also brings us some kind of reward, otherwise we would have stopped it a long time ago. So it can be useful to research this for yourself. An example from my own practice: on a busy day with many clients in succession and little break, I am tuned in to the goals of the client every session and actively think along with them. I don’t think about my own goals (maybe improving self-care?) until the end of the day, when I have already paid the price. They can be very small things, such as drinking enough water or getting up from my workplace.
Jelena Stevic, Psycholoog bij Focus GGZ Amsterdam

My vision

In my view, everyone can divide his or her own self-care issue into two levels: behavior and feeling. I have already briefly discussed the behavioral part above, because this is about what you can do to take good care of yourself. What behavior contributes to better self-care is personal, but there is also a common denominator: time. Spending enough time on yourself is an important condition. In addition, you can look at which things make you happy? What does your body need? Rest or exercise? Example from daily practice: I work in a team with many different personalities, where one likes to take a power nap of 10 minutes and the other likes to dance or visit colleagues.
To determine a direction for yourself and to know what suits you, you could conduct research on yourself on an emotional level. What do you feel? Where do you feel this in your body? Every emotion is felt in our body and every emotion has a function. Once you realize this within yourself (and you can learn that in therapy at Focus GGZ ;-)), you can determine a “self-care course”. Of course, this applies not only to self-care but to everything in our lives, emotions help you determine your course overall. For example, if you are tense, you will usually feel this as restlessness in your stomach, tingling or cold hands and feet and a “foggy” head. In such a situation your body indicates that it needs relaxation. A five-minute relaxation exercise can already make a big difference in your tension level and thus in the rest of the day. When the tension subsides the fog also disappears and you can again think clearly about the previously mentioned course. Another example: grief has the function of connecting us with others. So when you feel sad, it is important to visit someone and share what makes you sad. This is just a brief explanation, but shows how you can feel in your body what it takes for you to then design your self-care strategy accordingly.


Finally, the most important thing is of course that you also want to change something in your self-care. This may sound obvious, nevertheless, it is true that rushing through the day without thinking about ourselves, also contributes to something, for example by improving what you do not want to see. Maybe the thing you are dwelling on is painful? Or it tells you something you might know but don’t want to face. Anyhow, taking good care of yourself can be relaxing and you get to know yourself better.


In short, the steps for a change in your self-care are:
Want it
Make time
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A bad psychologist

Recently I was at a barbecue party of my son’s football club. There were all kinds of people there and sometimes the question arises what kind of work you do. I usually answer this vaguely to avoid comments such as “oh then you will see right through me” and “aren’t you taking all those stories home with you?” Sometimes I do answer because at that moment it seems okay to tell something about my work. So also it was at the mentioned party and indeed the question arose as to how I avoid taking home everything that is discussed in the room. I made an attempt to explain something about this, and it boiled down to the idea that as a psychologist (in my opinion) it is important to listen to the way someone tells the story instead of remembering the details in all sessions. The response that followed was: “But then you are a very bad psychologist, right?!” …

What is a good psychologist?

There were two things interesting about this comment: 1: the reaction it evoked in me and 2: the question: what is a “good” psychologist anyway? and then what is “bad”? I thought it was fun (and afterwards inspiring!) To put these questions to my colleagues.
To answer the first interesting phenomenon that the comment about the bad psychologist evoked in me: so many emotional, cognitive and physical processes are activated in the above comment that this is difficult to grasp in a blog. What can be understood is that this is exactly what my response to the concerning lady was about, I thought that was interesting to see.
I thought this was a theme to be broadened and I was curious as to what my colleagues think about this. These are a few answers to the question what are the characteristics of a good psychologist:
  • A good psychologist is someone who can put his / her own judgment on hold, can remain curious and has the intention to understand what is happening in the client’s inner world. If this fails, the therapist should reflect on himself to investigate.
  • The therapist places the responsibility for the process with the client and allows people to come up with a solution for themselves while given permission to confront them. An important attribute here is to constantly confirm the agreement to this consent.
  • A good psychologist has neither too much nor too little sympathy and empathy. He or she must ensure that he or she can continue to reflect, think and reciprocate. Even with negative countertransference it is important to maintain sympathy.
  • A good therapist is someone who takes their job seriously (understanding what is wrong with someone and properly help someone discover how to deal with it themselves). That a therapist always has to be empathetic is nonsense. In fact, the therapist should be critical of this task (am I still doing the right thing? What is going on in the room in regards to projections, involvement of both parties, transfer, etc.).

And what, according to the panel, is a bad psychologist?

One says it is out of the question to take responsibility for the client’s process and make yourself responsible for it. With this, the client learns that if he / she does not work out something, someone else will solve it. According to another colleague, a bad psychologist is someone who just acts randomly, treats only by feeling without any theoretical framework (the casual amateur psychologist).
One common consensus is that the division of roles in the therapy must be clear, it must be clear who owns the therapy and who “leads” the therapy and is taking a critical look at the process. It is important to consider the expectations of the therapy for both the client and the therapist.
To come back to the question of what is a good and what a bad therapist, this is not a question that can be answered in a short text and is definitely a big grey area. My colleagues and I do agree that this is in any case not a subject that is discussed during the study psychology, but something you mainly learn in practice (with luck you will find a good experienced psychotherapist who has a clear idea about this and can teach you something about this, and probably have an opinion about this article on a complicated topic …)
In a professional sense, there are clear expectations and frameworks for therapy. What seems especially important is to have a clear definition by both client and therapist and that both parties should take responsibility for it in order to enter into a partnership. Responsibility covers several layers, both on a content and process level. After all, therapy is about examining the client’s inner world with all the feelings, thoughts and physical sensations that go with it, with the aim of learning to understand themselves better. It would be striking if we as therapists did not take the responsibility of doing this ourselves.
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