Written by Laurae Coburn //
Each of us is charged with the responsibility of taking care of our bodies, minds, and hearts. Restoring and maintaining balance in our systems and in our lives can be a challenge, and for those of us involved in helping others, this task is both increasingly important and exponentially challenging. When we work with those who are suffering and in great need, it is easy to fall into the trap of putting other’s needs before our own. The bottom line is, if we do not take care of our basic needs we will not be able to help others or experience any satisfaction from the work we do.
At Vermont Permanency Initiative (VPI) South, our mission is to provide a therapeutic community that enables our girls to heal from past trauma, find pleasure and joy in their present lives, and build inner resources for their futures [https://vpisouth.com/]. VPI South provides trauma-informed residential care to children and adolescents who often have experienced complex developmental trauma. We endeavor to support our mission by taking care of the people we employ as well as the children we work with. We strive to treat each other with kindness and respect and acknowledge that we are the treatment center we have become because of the people we employ. Due to the nature and needs of the children and adolescents we serve, we ask a lot of our employees. They are exceptionally dedicated; when you work in a residential setting, you never close, and the needs are many. Our employees demonstrate great dedication and experience a variety of stressors and demands. The work we do is a marathon, not a sprint. With this knowledge in mind, we started a staff self-care program in the summer of 2017 in an effort to support our community more fully and begin to create a culture of self-care.
We knew we wanted to do something that was both integrated into our culture and sustainable. It also felt important to demonstrate our commitment to self-care by having a variety of offerings. The VPI South Self-care Program “provides training and practice in mindfulness and self-care strategies aimed at reducing stress and compassion fatigue through increasing knowledge of and experience with self- care strategies.” We offer multiple sessions of our course “Reducing Compassion Fatigue through Mindful Self-care” in varying formats to meet the scheduling needs of our employee. We also offer weekly employee yoga classes and a variety of workshops on topics such as stress, mindfulness, and nutrition.
In developing our program, we chose to anchor it in mindfulness practices. Much of self-care has to do with the ways we relate to ourselves, and cultivating an attitude of compassionate self-awareness is central to mindfulness practice. Some people, when faced with the concept of self-care, begin to think of themselves as a “fixer upper” — they begin to feel that they are in need of improvement or renovation. In our approach, we reject that notion in favor of the practice of establishing a nurturing relationship with oneself. With this paradigm shift, self-care becomes a way to be a good trustee of your life. Of course, self-care can involve getting more physical exercise or eating in a way that is more nourishing to the body, mind, and spirit. It can also include hiking, skiing, fishing, painting, knitting, getting a massage, or enjoying time with friends. The point is to engage in activities that bring us joy and restore balance to our lives.
We have found that our dedicated employees are habitually putting their needs behind the needs of others. Our direct care staff diligently ensure that our kids have all of their needs met, but may not give their own needs the same priority. One of the essential elements of our course Reducing Compassion Fatigue Through Mindful Self-Care is that participants create a self-care plan that is customized to their needs and preferences. In creating a self-care plan, it is generally accepted that you take an inventory of your stressors as well as what you are doing relative to the basics of self care (nutrition, mental and emotional needs, physical activities, relationships, spirit/meaning-making experiences, FUN). You then identify the activities and practices that support you in meeting these needs. The program also offers an invitation to examine what is getting in the way of our self-care. In identifying these perceived barriers, we can begin to realize that giving our needs a higher level of priority is our duty to ourselves.
Laurae Coburn, PhD, Director of Program Leadership at VPI South (https://vpisouth.com/), is a licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor, Licensed Addiction Counselor, Nationally Board-Certified Counselor, and certified yoga teacher (RYT 500). She has given various presentations at the state, national, and international level on topics such as mindfulness, grief, and social justice. Dr. Coburn is a part-time Associate Professor at The Sage Colleges where she teaches one course per year on Mindfulness. She has been a devoted student of yoga for 25 years and works in private practice where she specializes in implementing principles of yoga and mindfulness into trauma-informed psychotherapy. Laurae practices self-care by spending time with her family (including her 3 dogs), cooking, walking, and practicing yoga and mindfulness.