A deeper approach to practitioner responsibility Written by Brendan Mooney Psychologist
A practitioner is usually referred to as someone who engages in appointments with clients to support them with their health and well-being. Practitioners can include physiotherapists, occupational therapists, neurologists, general practitioners, psychologists, counsellors, and many other professionals.
There is no doubt that for the great majority of practitioners, there is a genuine good intention to support others. Practitioners are often required to work long hours in demanding roles. They often have to deal with difficult situations that require them to make decisions that can have huge implications for their client’s lives.
However, whilst a practitioner’s role is often focused on supporting clients to take better care of themselves, as practitioners we ought to bring equal focus to supporting ourselves too. Unfortunately this is often not the case.
The reality is that it is common for practitioners to recommend to clients what they are not living for themselves. A very basic example is a practitioner recommending that a client begin exercising when the practitioner themselves does not regularly exercise.
Given that clients are likely to be in worse circumstances than their practitioners, how do we expect clients to be inspired if the practitioner providing the recommendation is not able to live it for themselves? At best a practitioner may be able to share knowledge that theoretically recommends how another could live, but cannot actually show by living example a way of living that truly works.
There is great responsibility in working as a practitioner, and this responsibility applies 24/7, not just within the confines of the treatment room with our clients. Every choice we make affects the quality of our lives, and therefore the quality we in turn offer our clients.
Taking responsibility as a practitioner includes ensuring that, to the best of our ability, our private lives are clear of unresolved emotional issues. This level of responsibility requires a constant commitment to our own ongoing personal development, otherwise a practitioner’s own unresolved issues can interfere with a session by diminishing their ability to be objective at all times.
For example, does it make sense for practitioners to recommend healthy suggestions for clients when they themselves engage in unhealthy behaviours? This is the case for many practitioners who may drink alcohol (an established Group 1 Carcinogen rated in the same range as tobacco and asbestos), take drugs or otherwise detrimentally affect their bodies in their personal lives.
In essence as practitioners we need to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
The important topic of practitioner responsibility is often not discussed within health professions or focused on in our training. There is a general acceptance that we can practice in a way that asks people to ‘do as I say, not do as I do’.
But at what cost?
Unfortunately the burnout rate for practitioners is high.
Added to this, the disproportionate rates of suicide amongst both dentists and doctors suggests that something is horribly wrong with the way we educate health care practitioners to approach their work.
How is it possible that a doctor can suicide when he or she is trained to know ‘health care’ more than anyone? What if we are missing the bigger picture of what it means to be a practitioner? We have reduced the term in modern times to merely mean someone ‘that dispenses knowledge and advice’ without a lived experience of health in their own lives. We also see practitioners who are very willing to support others but who do not treat themselves with equal care.
Wouldn’t it make sense then to return to the basics of valuing the body through self-care?
Given practitioners are likely to be exposed to intense emotions or situations, it is super important that deep self-care be part of one’s lifestyle. This obviously includes a healthy sleeping rhythm, regular exercise and healthy food.
However there is far more to self-care when true quality of life is sought.
Choosing to move our bodies with a consistent quality of presence allows us to feel at ease and not drained by the intense situations we are needing to deal with. It includes developing the ability to observe and not take on the situations in our day. To read more about self-care and how to integrate it into daily living see Simple self-care for our bodies.
Reference: Alcohol Healthwatch. October 2002. http://www.ahw.org.nz/page.php?78
More will be written in an upcoming series of articles on this topic. If you would like to read more be sure to subscribe to receive email updates.
BIOGRAPHY Psychologist Brendan Mooney works with adults, adolescents and children. With a genuine interest in people's well-being, Brendan brings a warmth, practicality and an equality that supports clients to truly address underlying issues and blockages that are preventing them from moving forward.