Self-Care as an Ethical Imperative: What Can We Do About It?
Thursday, May 30, 2019
This article is part of the "Did You Know" article series presented by OPA's Committee on Social Responsibility.
Written by: Akanksha Das, BS - Miami University
The unfortunate reality of just how common burnout is among healthcare professionals is problematic in many ways. First and foremost, greater emphasis on changing healthcare systems and cultures is necessary. Research shows existing organizational-environmental factors in hospitals and universities often serve as antecedents of burnout (for a more comprehensive review see Morse et al., 2012; and check out a list of links below under “Helpful websites for workplace strategies for self-care”). The topic of self-care is not new for many of us either. Therefore, beyond necessary organizational-environmental changes, more frequent conversations around the skills and tools on how to care for ourselves is essential too. It wasn’t until I started (and just finished) my first year in a clinical psychology doctoral program that I was introduced to the idea of self-care as an ethical imperative.
A growing body of research shows that psychologists with burnout and lower well-being are less likely to provide competent care (Barnett et al., 2007). In fact, when the topic on self-care as an ethical imperative in my first year Ethics class was taught, the discussion was wholeheartedly welcomed by myself and my peers. This was not the first time we had heard or discussed that engaging in self-care both while in graduate school and our careers more broadly is vital! The most surprising part was that almost everyone in my cohort felt they lacked explicit knowledge and training on how to actually engage in self-care practices.
With much gratitude, in response to our shared desire (and gap in knowledge) on “how” to self-care, our professor decided to integrate creating a self-care plan into our Ethics curriculum. We were introduced the concept of the 6 domains of self-care: biological, behavioral, emotional, intellectual, relational, and spiritual. Please take note, a quick search on google confirmed--there are many names and domains that could be included. Be sure to check them out and choose the ones that seem most fitting for you. Ideally, you will want your self-care plan to encompass several life domains to address your whole self (see Butler et al., 2019 for a detailed review of the literature as well as additional important considerations and techniques). For the purposes of this post, I will provide a brief introduction to serve as a springboard for some individual investigation, especially since self-care is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor!
For the 6 domains we considered, we were tasked to write in detail 1) the existing strategies used to care for each domain, and 2) add ideas on how we can extend our existing plans as needed. Two aspects that were important were to explicitly write out our self-care plans in detail and modify it as needed throughout the semester. In doing this, it became clear to me which domains were personally important for me. Domains that were less intuitive originally, such as intellectual or spiritual domains, were also important for me to nourish. The overall practice of adding this to our curriculum of professional training made it more evident that self-care is a necessary aspect of our lives. It also underscored that our program values self-care as an ethical imperative, by providing the tools on how we can actually do it, just as we are provided tools on how to provide competent therapy and care to our clients.
- Butler, L. D., Mercer, K. A., McClain-Meeder, K., Horne, D. M., & Dudley, M. (2019). Six domains of self-care: Attending to the whole person. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 29(1), 107-124.
- In pursuit of wellness: The self-care imperative. Barnett, J. E., Baker, E. K., Elman, N. S., & Schoener, G. R. (2007). Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 38(6), 603–612. http://doi.org/10.1037/0735-7028.38.6.603
- Morse, G., Salyers, M. P., Rollins, A. L., Monroe-DeVita, M., & Pfahler, C. (2012). Burnout in mental health services: a review of the problem and its remediation. Administration and policy in mental health, 39(5), 341–352. doi:10.1007/s10488-011-0352-1
Helpful websites on creating a self-care plan:
Helpful websites for workplace strategies for self-care:
Other sources of information: