The rigors of working with teens in the field of mental healthcare can leave you indifferent to the suffering of your clients. All too often, providers see the worst of behaviors, with limited success stories. Most substance abuse treatment and mental health care is done in crisis mode, and providers absorb the crisis in hopes of making a difference, but often not seeing the result. How can you retain your compassion for your clients? Try using these seven habits of compassionate mental healthcare.
#1. Developing Awareness
Before you can practice compassion, you need to be aware of human suffering. Being a care provider can be challenging – too much compassion for your clients can lead to compassion fatigue. Too little compassion can impact not only your quality of care but also your clients’ outcomes.
Finding a cue to remind you of the humanity of your clients can increase your awareness of their suffering. One idea is to have a baby or childhood picture of each client and keep it at the front of their file so that before you work with a struggling teen, you are aware of the innocence and humanity within them.
#2. Affirming Intention
Compassion does not always come naturally or easily. Ask yourself questions each day to remind yourself of your intentions in this compassionate work:
- What is your intention for today?
- What do you want for your clients?
- What do you want for yourself?
- What do you have to offer today?
Renewing your intentions each day can help you reflect on the purpose of this work—to help teens with substance use or mental health disorders. The compassion that drew you to this field can be renewed each day with intention, empowering you to be more compassionate.
#3. Staying Motivated
Staying motivated can be one of the most difficult challenges in working with teens. Often, you have to bring the motivation for you as well as for them. One tip for staying motivated is to have a cause. Find a success story or a story that inspires you to continue. Keep a picture, a phrase, or another reminder in your office or workspace, and take a minute each day to acknowledge that inspiration. You may need to refer to it even more than once per day to maintain your motivation for your work and the compassion that you need.
#4. Pushing Past Resistance
Whether it is the homeless person asking you for money or that one client who pushes your buttons, you may experience resistance to offer compassion each day. Noticing the things that challenge your compassion will help you push past them and offer compassion despite the resistance you feel inside. This level of compassion requires effort, but as you practice it, compassion will come more naturally.
#5. Finding Support
Everyone needs support, and mental healthcare providers need support more than most. Just like your clients need a support system, you need one as well. Your co-workers share similar bonds and experiences, but relying on them alone can drain all of you that much faster.
Support for you should look like individual therapy regularly, maintaining relationships with close family and friends, and seeking support from your community as well. As you seek support and find compassion from others, you will refill your compassion bucket to share with your clients.
To truly offer compassion to others, you must first have compassion for yourself. To stop judging others, you need to stop judging or blaming yourself. Practice what you preach: clear your mind of negative self-talk, notice your successes, and be gentle with yourself. A little self-compassion goes a long way toward being compassionate to others.
You probably preach self-care every day with your clients and their families. You know that to take care of your clients, you need to take care of yourself. You must put that knowledge into practice for it to be effective. What are you doing for your self-care? What are you doing daily to make time for yourself to do something that fuels you? Are you making time to do something that you are passionate about and helps you to feel alive?
Self-care is more than just eating right and exercising or even meditation or yoga. While you should also be doing all of those things regularly for your wellness, you also need to find some amount of time, no matter how small, to make time for yourself each day to recharge your batteries.
At the end of the day, compassionate care requires daily maintenance. Compassion is a decision that requires awareness, intent, motivation, ambition, support, self-compassion, and self-care. To be your best self for you and your clients, you need to implement habits of compassionate care.
Practicing compassionate care is one of the most challenging aspects of working with teens with substance use and mental health disorders. As a provider, developing daily habits to cultivate and maintain compassion with yourself and your clients will make you a better person and a better care provider. At Sustain Recovery, we practice compassionate care. We offer structured care in an extended residential setting for teens with substance abuse and potential co-occurring mental health disorders. Often, our clients have struggled with other traditional forms of care. Our program offers the opportunity to build support for them and gradually reintroduce them back into their communities. Our Irvine, California, facility is accessible for local teens or those from other communities, but we will always work to connect clients with support in their communities. If you have a client you think may benefit from our program, call us at (949) 407-9052 to learn more.