Maintaining Professional Wellness
Brian M. Wind, PhD
TCAF Executive Director
The field of psychology is widely known to have multiple unique occupational vulnerabilities, many of which place a psychologist at increased risk of professional “impairment”. Stress, burnout, isolation, and other phenomena inherent to our profession sometimes lead to impairment in the form of boundary violations, substance abuse, ethical infractions, and other problems. The Tennessee Colleague Assistance Foundation (TCAF) has been known colloquially as the state of Tennessee’s “impaired psychologists organization”. However, TCAF is in the midst of a culture shift, with an emphasis being placed on professional wellness rather than professional impairment. In that vein, TCAF has five simple recommendations related to professional wellness that are sure to make your professional life more rewarding.
Stay Spiritually Connected
Note the word “spiritually” above – TCAF’s suggestion to remain spiritually connected is not related to dogma or creed, but instead involves some type of program of study for reflection, meditation, or prayer. As with many of the recovery programs in our culture, we as psychologists have the right to choose our own concept of spirituality. Proactively engaging in some form of spiritually centered activity at the start and end of each day helps to provide a sense of personal balance on multiple levels, in addition to providing a healthy coping mechanism. In sum, engaging in a program of study and learning related to our spiritual selves must be a priority.
Engage in Self Help Programs
Most programs aimed at fostering personal growth involve some type of “design for living”. We as psychologists must accept these types of programs, and undertake the important task of planning our individual design for living. More important, however, is the call to action by these programs. Planning without action is often useless, and will not aid us in the movement toward wellness. The focus of engagement in this type of program is self-improvement, and one has free reign to be creative regarding the type of program he or she chooses to follow. A therapist can be a good guide in helping to start this process, and our individual design for living can involve support groups, recovery meetings, or utilization of some type of literature containing a specific pathway to follow. Bear in mind that the design for living we choose may change over time based on our phase of life, specific needs, and other factors.
Connect with Others
The recommendation to connect with others is made related to both the professional and personal realms. The profession of psychology has been shown to have the prominent occupational vulnerability of isolation. It has also been shown that psychologists tend to isolate most in times of stress. Though we may work with others on a day to day basis we often feel alone, and that feeling of loneliness can be a direct precursor to impairment in our profession. Finding peer support is critical to avoid professional isolation, and this can be done on group and individual levels. The utilization of peer support groups and/or individual peer support (by way of a “professional sponsor”) has many benefits, including but not limited to: maintaining connection to our profession, facilitation of honesty, normalization of feelings, and creation of a sense of accountability. Psychologists also tend to isolate in their personal lives. As such, it is also recommended that we maintain a sense of connectivity to others in our personal lives. This connectivity may come from groups or individuals, and may be centered around a particular activity, hobby, or cause. It is critical that we maintain a sense of connection to people outside of our profession.
Maintain Health Hygiene
It is the belief of TCAF that the three “pillars of health” are sleep, diet, and exercise. Sleep problems are amongst the most common medical disorders in adult humans, and they often go undiagnosed. It has been argued that all is lost healthwise if we are not getting adequate quantity and quality of sleep, and negative consequences of untreated sleep disorders are often seen in the areas of health and quality of life. Regarding diet, ample documentation of the need for healthy eating exists in the scientific literature. Yet many of us still tend to use food as a mood altering substance at times – as a primary and faulty method of “coping”. We consume the wrong foods, at the wrong times, and in the wrong quantities. Compounding our health problems is our tendency to be complacent regarding physical activity and exercise. Consultation with physicians, dietitians, trainers, and other professionals to design a program to improve the three pillars of health is critical for each of us.
Sustain a Sense of Purpose
Developing and maintaining a sense of purpose for psychologists often involves engagement in leisure time activities. Allowance for vacation/leisure time is obviously a prerequisite for engaging in this type of activity. However, the unfortunate tendency of many psychologists is to become “co-dependent” regarding their professional work, and this usually results in old fashioned “workaholism”. Professional boundaries regarding time spent in work endeavors must be employed, and proactive efforts to engage in pleasurable, non-work related leisure time activities must follow. This is the area in which the adventurous spirit is encouraged – trying new activities can be exceedingly gratifying.
The five steps for maintaining professional wellness listed above are simple, but not easy. Adherence to these steps can be difficult, on both daily and long term levels. However, it is the experience of TCAF that those who are able to maintain adherence to the above listed steps experience great rewards personally and professionally. Remember – willingness, diligence, and dedication to the above are the keys to success. Best of luck in your personal and professional endeavors, and stay well!
The Tennessee Colleague Assistance Foundation (TCAF) is a non-profit Tennessee corporation developed by psychologists for the specific purpose of providing wellness, intervention, and monitoring services for mental healthcare professionals. TCAF is a separate but affiliated foundation of the Tennessee Psychological Association (TPA). TCAF has a contract with the Tennessee Board of Examiners (BOE) in psychology, and the scope of our services is designed to assist mental health practitioners who may be experiencing difficulties causing professional impairment, or who may need assistance with licensure issues. Referrals to the TCAF generally come from three sources: 1) BOE referral – both intervention and non-intervention, 2) self-referral, and 3) other referral – both intervention and non-intervention (e.g., family member, colleague or other professional, patient). To obtain assistance from TCAF, contact should be initiated by calling (877) 895-2248. TCAF is a cutting-edge agency, and as such you can be assured that your case will be handled professionally and discretely.