Topic 2: Professional Identity and Self-Care {by 6/7}

Based on the readings due this week consider the following two discussion points: (1) When you hear the words “professional identity,” what comes to mind? Is this something you have ever thought about before? Is this important to you? (2) What are some of your concerns for self-care/burnout when it comes to working with clients (e.g., What might/does get you stressed? Do you have any effective ways to deal with such stress?)? Your original post should be posted by the beginning of class 6/7.  Post your two replies no later than 6/9.  *Please remember to click the “reply” button when posting a reply.  This makes it easier for the reader to follow the blog postings.

18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Allison Shea
    Jun 06, 2018 @ 16:40:03

    1.) When I hear the word “professional identity” I think ideally of an individual being able to integrate their values, strengths, and personal attributes into their occupation. From Bolle’s Chapter 7 it appears as if professional identity takes into consideration what’s most important to an individual in the workplace (i.e. having a good clinical supervisor, adequate pay, collaboration with peers, etc.). It’s having an awareness of the working conditions and type of people one thrives with. For this field, part of a person’s professional identity might be what type of theoretical orientation they practice, if they adhere to ESTs, and the specific population (disorders, ages) one works with. Professional identity is honestly not something I’ve given a whole lot of thought to although I’m sure it is important. I’m wondering if an individual should have their professional identity established early on or if this is something that develops over time. As I touched on in blog post #1, I have many uncertainties about what population and setting I would find the most rewarding to work with. However, from my short time doing clinical work for internship, I have already begun to develop my own personal style as a therapist and have gained some knowledge about what is most important to me in the workplace no matter what setting I’ll end up in.

    2.) One of my concerns for burning out is having too many clients. Even in internship, I found having several sessions back to back caused the quality of my listening to go down. Pope & Vasquez discuss how a person has to ask themselves questions regarding how many clients they can have in a row and how many individuals they can see per day without the quality of treatment suffering. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll have that flexibility when we get right out of school as we try to make our clinical hours or need to see a certain amount of clients to make a desired salary. A second concern I have regarding burnout is seeing too many similar clients. Because CBT has specific interventions for certain disorders, I’d want to make sure I don’t get into the mindset that I’ve seen this case before. It would still be important to get a full background for my case conceptualization and not just rely on doing what has worked in the past for clients with similar presentations. I have a few ways to deal with stress and engage in self-care that I have found beneficial. The first is prayer. It’s often helpful for me to stop by the Assumption college chapel quickly before class in order to destress. My other helpful self-care strategy is working out, particularly lifting has been beneficial in reducing anxiety. I made it a new year’s resolution to try to intentionally schedule in at least 3 self-care activities a week as I would schedule in other meetings and obligations. I’m hoping to continue this strategy when I start a job in a few months to be less likely to experience burnout.

    Reply

    • Liz Bradley
      Jun 07, 2018 @ 12:45:00

      Allie,

      I can definitely relate to not feeling like I have fully fleshed out my professional identity. Personally, I think this is something that will grow and change over time as we gain more experience in our careers. I think an important aspect of this would be to continue working on self-exploration and solidifying our own ‘style.’ As I mentioned in my own post, I think so much of professional identity relies on our personal identity, and the two need to coexist in harmony. I also really love your resolution to schedule 3 self-care activities each week! I think that’s a great way to remind yourself to use those self-care strategies so that we don’t burn out!

      Reply

      • Taylor Schiff
        Jun 09, 2018 @ 23:42:12

        Allie,

        I found your explanation of professional identity to be really insightful. Honestly, I feel like it gave me a better understanding of the whole concept and how it specifically plays a role within our own career field. It’s pretty interesting to think about both the similarities between all of us as well as the differences and how those eventually come to shape our unique identities within an occupational context. On another note, I think it is completely normal to have some reservations about what populations and what setting you would find most rewarding. I too find myself thinking the same thing. However, I think that’s part of the beauty of not knowing. We can to some extent (obviously within the realm of our own competencies) explore and find our best fit. In other words, we aren’t necessarily stuck with a job that does not adequately fulfill our wants and needs! Hope that fact helps ease some of your concerns (:

        Reply

    • Tinh Tran
      Jun 09, 2018 @ 17:00:36

      Allison,
      Thank you for sharing some of your concerns when working with clients. I agree with you and I do feel that do many sessions (perhaps in one day) may cause the quality of our concentration and listening, especially if all clients that I meet on that day have similar problems. I think that this also may sometimes make me “lazy” in a sense that I don’t spend time to learn new things and create effective strategies for clients. I may just simply use my interventions that I already had in mind and apply for clients who have the same problems, and so when I have clients with new problems/disorders, I somehow feel embarrassed! I also find connections when you share some ways to deal with stress. Yes, just like you, I also spend time to pray which helps to calm me down and find peace when I feel stressful.

      Reply

  2. Kat Rondina
    Jun 06, 2018 @ 21:36:28

    1) Initially what I thought of when I read “professional identity” I thought of what I usually call my “work persona”. Retail and any other job where you have “customers” always required what felt like constant acting to sell to people whatever product. Professional identity in the literature describes it seems to be closer to finding the balance between the formal role of “therapist” (or whatever other career) and the values one holds relating both to the work and to the self. Bolles (2018) suggests making concrete graph of priorities for the workplace, which may be useful to consider when the job hunt begins.
    I’ve definitely given some thought to some extent about professional identity though I didn’t know this particular term. In whatever different job I’m doing (I’ve had many, most were terrible) I’ve always felt at some pride in working hard and being seen as a resource to the organization I work for. I’ve always hoped to find a career where my efforts at doing my job well will actually have a positive impact on other’s lives in a meaningful way. I also know from experience I have personal ethical boundaries I am unwilling to cross when asked by an employer. I’ve always hoped to find a work environment that feels like the right fit, but my time in the workforce has definitely not left me particularly optimistic that my whole “wish list” (or flower diagram for Bolles) will be met.
    2) When it comes to working with clients, I feel like burnout is definitely a risk. I know typically organizations all seem to be short staffed in this field and constantly push more work on clinicians than they can handle. I worry that I’m perhaps too easily pushed into biting off more than I can chew to save face and keep in employer’s good graces. I’m also aware this leads to poorer quality work and can lead to burnout.
    Self-care has never been one of my strengths, which looks to be in the literature something I need to improve at. Typically, my “blowing off steam” method is talking with friends or family, reading, or watching something particularly stupid on television. Working and doing school has pretty much made my free time strictly for homework and chores and rarely hanging out with the friends I barely see due to my weird work hours. I also know for a fact that I use the excuse that no one is around when I have free time to watch way too much television when all my work is done, which is a habit I should break. I know when I’m done school I’ll have a more normal schedule so hopefully I will actually be better able to build a personal routine.

    Reply

    • Tinh Tran
      Jun 09, 2018 @ 18:43:01

      Kat,
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts in regard to your self-care. Just like you, self-care is not one of my strengths either. To be honest, I sometimes have to push myself very hard to do some self-care, especially some physical activities, such as walking or cycling. I feel that it’s easier for me to keep a consistent workout schedule when I do it with my friend than when I do it by myself. I totally agree with you that keeping balance between work and school is not easy. It takes a lot of effort, encouragement, and commitment.

      Reply

  3. Tinh Tran
    Jun 07, 2018 @ 10:56:32

    1. When I hear the words “professional identity,” what first comes to my mind is the question “who I am” within the context of my career in counseling. In other words, how I see myself as a professional in counseling field. I have never thought about these two words before. Now I, however, think that it is something important that I should pay attention to. This is because how I perceive myself can impact on my career. In addition, I also think that how others view me (being a professional) should also be included when I describe my professional identify. Other people’s point of view about my career sometimes affect the work I am going to do in counseling as well. I feel that although a job title can have a significant role, I should not identify myself just by only a “job-title” as Bolles (2018) once mentioned in his book. I should define my career a deeper level which includes beliefs, values, and experiences, etc. about my occupation. I think that when I am able to describe my professional identify, I may know better what direction I need to go, what I really care about, what fit in with my purpose, and what I can do best. All of them will probably help me to do my work in a more effective way.
    2. Beside one year of my internship, I don’t have a lot of experiences in regarding with mental health counseling. However, I feel that listening to clients’ problems make me stress sometimes. Each client has different problems that she or he needs to deal with. As a human being, I believe that each one of us probably has some level of stress sometimes in our own lives, and now our vocation also gives us opportunities to work with clients to help them to solve their own problems. In a sense, we carry two types of stress (one for ourselves and one for clients) in our shoulders. In those cases, I have tried to make a clear boundary between my work and my personal life though it’s hard to do it sometimes. In addition, I also feel stressful and disappointed a little when clients do not make progress in therapy. This makes me feel that I do not give them a right or effective treatment or I may do something inappropriately. I am sometimes stuck in figuring out what I need to do next. In those situations, I have tried to take a pause to think and to assess what I have done, what clients have done, and make some changes if possible. To deal with all such stress, I have tried to push myself do some physical exercise (at least three times a week) or I take time to enjoy some other hobbies (cooking, talking to friends…). Another way I like to do is to take time off to go on a retreat where I can really empty my mind and refresh myself.

    Reply

    • Allison Shea
      Jun 07, 2018 @ 20:27:08

      Tihn, I really appreciated your point that one way to define our professional identity is not only how we view ourselves but how others view us. This point tied in nicely with our class discussion of how we should be conducting ourselves outside of the work setting. I agree with you that we shouldn’t just define ourselves as a “job title.” Fortunately for us, the job title we’ll have tends to be associated with certain values: caring for other people, being a good, empathetic listener, etc. more so than other occupations. I also really resonated with your concern that hearing about clients’ problems can be stressful. While we don’t want to let that stress impact how we react when a client tells us something, I think it can be a good thing to have an inner emotional reaction. If we didn’t we might think to ourselves, “oh just another client with X problem” and not feel as empathetic. It is easy, though, to take on the stress our client is facing even after our session with them is over. I think it’s telling about what kind of therapist you are that another one of your concerns is being worried that your client won’t get better. You mention trying to assess treatment and make changes if possible, and that’s what we should all be doing!

      Reply

    • Kat Rondina
      Jun 11, 2018 @ 16:15:37

      Tinh:
      I can really understand in your personal stressor segments that struggle to not take the client’s stress onto yourself. We’ve picked a career path where we’re dealing with trauma pretty much on the daily, and it’s always important to be looking for counter-transference to try and prevent vicarious traumatization (I feel like this sounds a little too psychoanalytic). This topic is really where I feel the whole “self-care” topic becomes important. It’s important to have an understanding of personally effective coping strategies to deal with the emotional burden rather than just carrying it around. It sounds like you have a solid idea of some self-care strategies that will help you moving forward, and hopefully we’ll learn some more when we cover the topic in class.
      (I apologize for the late reply.)

      Reply

  4. William Nall
    Jun 07, 2018 @ 11:19:12

    1) After the readings from this week my understanding of “professional identity” has changed. My original view of this concept was more about the population one works with and their theoretical background. Before reading Bolles, professional identity to me was how one was unique to others in the field. Although, I was unaware of how specific ones identity could be. After reading Bolles (2018) I have discovered it is so much more than that. One of the most useful activities for me in chapter 7 was “prioritizing the petals”. By ranking the “parts of a job” by what was most important to me I was able to visualize my ideal work environment in a broader definition from “population and orientation”. Bolles has also illuminated how one’s values and skills interact to create one’s professional identity. Building this identity seems to be a process that will be built overtime and is not something that is achieved and then no more work is done towards it. This is something that should always be sought to demonstrate throughout one’s career, it is not simply achieved and then established but something to strive for. I believe if we are always striving to demonstrate our professional identity through our values and skills we will always be satisfied with our careers and establish ourselves as invaluable members of an organization.
    2) Pope and Vasquez discuss concerns about a diminished quality of care due from too many clients or the scheduling of clients in succession. This concept concerns be as well, I have concerns about my ability to properly organize a certain number of clients to spend adequate time on each case. Additionally, a worry of mine is subjecting clients to a type of “one size fits all treatment”; too many clients may lead one to box every client into the same treatment plan with only subtle nuances. As we well know, no two clients are the same, which means no two treatment plans are the same. By having too many clients and an unorganized scheduling it may lead one to develop a blanket treatment plan and thereby perform ineffective therapy. Working with managed care and other staff at a placement can also be stressful and is the area in which I get the most frustrated. There are times where one’s view of best care and another’s view may clash. This for me can be difficult because I know the client may be getting two different treatment approaches which only tarnishes both. Working with staff and being a more cohesive team member on a multidisciplinary team may be something I need to work on further for myself.
    Currently, I have a difficult time scheduling in self-care. I am in school full time, I have three jobs, and a long daily commute. For self-care, I try to go out with friends, every Tuesday night is all you can eat wings so we all try to meet up for that. Another strategy I have employed with my girlfriend is setting aside time to complain. I know that sounds silly but we will take 30 minutes to just tell each other about frustrations at work and then we do not talk about work after that. It has worked for us and after tough days it feels good to just have a cathartic moment of frustration and then move along.

    Reply

    • Liz Bradley
      Jun 07, 2018 @ 12:53:40

      Will,

      I think you bring up such a great point about integrating our values and skills into our professional identity. I think keeping values as a central part of our professional identities will help us remain genuine and true to ourselves, which will increase our satisfaction in our careers in the long run. In a way, I think this is almost a form of self-care in itself. By staying true to our values and keeping them at the heart of our professional identities, we are helping ourselves avoid burnout from career dissatisfaction. I love the scheduled 30 minute sessions for complaining about work and then using boundaries to prevent it from turning into an all night complaint session. I think it is so important to be able to vent to the people we are closest to, but also really value keeping things in perspective with boundaries.

      Reply

    • Taylor Schiff
      Jun 09, 2018 @ 23:20:58

      Will,

      I can totally relate to the lack of self-care. I have long since struggled with that concept, and as much as I hate to say it, things may have actually gotten worse during grad school before they got better. Trying to juggle all of these responsibilities and still keep our sanity is near impossible. I’ve recently had to re-frame the way I think about self-care so as to increase its significance in my own life: before our internship, not engaging in self-care (whatever that may be for a given individual) really was only to our own detriment, whereas after, and as we enter the workforce, not engaging in self-care can have a serious effect on our clients as well. I have to constantly remind myself that I cannot ‘pour from an empty glass’. If we expect to give adequate care to our clients (as I so badly want to), we must first take care of ourselves. I think you’re making some good steps to try and incorporate more self-care in your life. Just remember… it’s for us, but also for our future clients!

      Reply

  5. Liz Bradley
    Jun 07, 2018 @ 12:39:01

    When I think about professional identity, I think about how people present themselves in work/professional settings. I think to be genuine, your professional identity should have significant overlap with your personal identity, or who you are when you are not at work. While we may feel more relaxed, or free to express ourselves more creatively when not in our professional roles, I think the core identity pieces are the same for those who are truly genuine about the way they present themselves. Professional identity is definitely something I have spent a lot of time thinking about over the course of my education. I have been so focused on my career goals since high school, that I have spent a significant amount of time imagining what that future would look like, and what needed to grow and change to get there. In a field like mental health counseling, I think so much of that “future picture” of career goals is reliant upon a professional identity. How can we help others without knowing ourselves first? To me, professional identity is incredibly important because it shapes the way I am perceived by colleagues, supervisors, and clients alike. It should never feel like putting on a mask when I walk through the doors of my workplace. I think if it ever felt this way, I would see this as a red flag that I needed to evaluate some problem areas in my life.

    When I was first beginning my practicum, one of the biggest things I heard people discussing frequently was how to avoid burnout. Most people in the field offered the advice of finding a self-care practice that works well for yourself and practicing it regularly. As a newbie in the field, this presented a lot of concerns for me. It definitely left me wondering if this was really sustainable or is it inevitable that everyone who enters this field will end up completely burnt out in 5-10 years’ time and all of my educational time and expenses will have been a waste?! But, after being in the field for a full year, my concerns have definitely relaxed a bit. While I recognize I am still quite new to the field and don’t even have a full-time level caseload, I have also gained a lot of knowledge about self-care and burnout. I no longer fear that it is inevitable that all people entering the field will be burnt-out and useful in 5-10 years’ time; however, this comes with the caveat that practicing regular self-care is the key to not ending up miserable in my career. The things that stress me out now or I foresee being major stressors in my career and require more focus from my self-care practices include: lack of clear leadership during times of tremendous change, lack of adequate supervision and/or consultation, and carrying “heavy” or high risk cases alone with an improper balance of lower risk cases. Dealing with these stressors for me starts with keeping fairly strict boundaries: work is work, and personal is personal. Obviously, it is impossible to separate these completely, but I do my best to leave my work stressors at the door of my office and switch out of “therapist mode” when I go home after a day in the office. I also try to manage my personal problems on my personal time, rather than while I am in the office. By doing my best to separate these two categories of life stressors, I can usually avoid becoming so overwhelmed by stressors that I am immobilized or nearly useless. When the stressors from either side (or both) begin to feel too big for me to manage with just these boundaries, I try to use more of my self-care skills. For me, this sometimes means time to be by myself watching Netflix for a few hours just to let my brain decompress and not have to add anything more to the problem list that already exists. I am careful not to allow this to become a time of brooding about my stressors. If I can’t shut my brain off for a little while, I won’t use this self-care practice. Instead, I will use my next practice of leaning on my supports. Some work problems I can discuss with the people I am close to in my personal life, however sometimes I can’t adequately use these people for support depending on the problem, so I go to my supervisor or other colleagues for such problems. One final example of self-care to manage stressors that works for me is never underestimating the power of a night out with friends! Sometimes this type of distraction is exactly what I need to lighten the load and avoid burnout.

    Reply

    • Allison Shea
      Jun 07, 2018 @ 20:23:32

      Liz, you bring up that a component of professional identity is how people present themselves. As we talked about in class today, it is particularly important in our profession to conduct ourselves a certain way both at work and in other settings. Having that overlap between our own personal values and values that come with our profession is important to come off genuine as you pointed out. I think it’s great that you have spent a lot of time thinking about your professional identity, because I certainly haven’t and I imagine many people in our position haven’t either. It’s evident that you’ve given a lot of consideration to your professional career choices–taking 5 classes so you can continue your work at Leahey! With regards to burnout, we seem to have some similar stressors about not having a strong supervisor. However, I think if we didn’t have this concern there would be more of an issue! You point out that it’s important to keep boundaries between work and personal life. I find that’s so hard to do! It’s hard to stop ruminating about a difficult case on the hour car ride back home or not to think about the paper I have to write while at Internship, but I think this is an essential skill for not getting burnt out and for being a good therapist.

      Reply

    • William Nall
      Jun 08, 2018 @ 11:07:05

      Liz,
      I think you raise a great point when you discuss issues that may increase the risk of burnout. You identify “tremendous change”, “lack of adequate supervision”, and an unbalanced ration of high- risk to low risk cases. I think it is important for all of us to remember that as much regular self- care as we establish these factors will always increase the risk of burn out. A problem I regularly run into which burns me out is agreeing to almost all case requests, one thing we can do as professionals is attempt to balance our case load. I don’t think it would be out of the ordinary to discuss with a supervisor a difficulty with a balance in “high risk” cases. Our duty is to serve people in the best way we can, if an unbalance case load is preventing us from doing that we should make it known to others. I think recognizing this in ourselves will make us more effective clinicians as we won’t be as overwhelmed throughout the week.

      Reply

  6. Taylor Schiff
    Jun 07, 2018 @ 13:51:10

    I cannot say that discussions of professional identity came up often at the hospital nor have I heard the concept mentioned more than once outside the context of this class. However, this lack of recognition should not necessarily be a reflection of its importance. My understanding of professional identity can be described as how an individual defines himself or herself within an occupational context and how he or she relays this to others. This could include things like the specific skills one has come to acquire or even the clients one chooses to work with (e.g. a specific population or age group). I imagine that having a strong sense of one’s own professional identity would equate to having a strong sense of self-awareness and what one has to offer, (which unfortunately not everyone possesses.) However, the exercises Bolles describes in Chapter 7 seem to bring you much closer to that ideal. The activities he utilizes, though not difficult, require individuals to think critically and reflect about who they and who they want to be as a working professional. Identifying these qualities, desires, and preferences could be especially beneficial to all of us who are just beginning to enter the workforce in terms of finding a job that we both enjoy and value. As unfortunate as it is, professional identity had not been something I really considered before this prompt, and therefore I am not sure how well-established mine is at this point in time. Nevertheless, I can certainly see the advantages of identifying the various facets of one’s professional identity and how such reflection might play into our future career within the counseling field.

    After reviewing Chapter 3 of Pope and Vasquez (2005), I could wholeheartedly identify with several of the consequences of neglecting self-care. This past year I was under the impression that I had appropriately identified and attended to my assigned responsibilities: internship, class, and my additional job as a server. I’d run myself ragged tending to the duties these roles required of me. Yet, at the end of the day (or often technically the next day) I felt as though I could put my head on the pillow and say to myself, “You got it all done”. I guess it gave me a slight sense of accomplishment knowing that I was able to keep my head above water for that moment, or at least for that day. But then I’d wake up the next morning only to do it all over again. I felt like my life had suddenly become this never-ending loop of internship. class, work, internship, class, work, internship, class, work. Any spare moment I had (which let me tell you was few and far between) was dedicated to taking a few deep breaths so I could continue with my current pace of life. Honestly, sometimes I question how I made it through ‘unscathed’, considering I very rarely engaged in any kind of self-care during that time. Looking back, I can certainly say that I took away several lessons from this experience and have made some lifestyle adjustments in order to avoid such exhaustion (integrating some good self-care activities). And yet, I do still have some serious concerns that a similar pattern may reappear further down the road. I’ve come to know myself and my own tendencies quite well. Not only do I attempt to put 100% into essentially everything that I do, but I also seem to possess some innate inability to say no (both of which, and especially the combination of the two, have the potential to eventually lead to depletion and burnout). With this in mind, I realize that I have to be especially cognizant with my clients in that I am not working harder than they are, but also with the organization or agency I choose, making sure I do not take on more than I can mentally handle.

    Reply

    • William Nall
      Jun 08, 2018 @ 11:17:56

      Taylor,
      You mention that professional identity is something you may have not considered before this class. I think that makes a lot of sense considering how new we are to the field in which we will be practicing. I don’t think professional identity is something we can truly sit down with Bolles exercises and discover in a few hours. To me it is something that manifests through our values and experiences. Because of our current lack of experience I believe something we can work on is exploring and prioritizing our values. Bolles’s exercises for values way help guide us to working with a company that share similar values to our own. Having matching values with a company will lead to more fulfilling experiences and more job satisfaction. This may also be a protective factor from burn out! Perhaps when we believe we are demonstrating our values at work we are more resilient to hardships and exhaustion. I think similarly to you in that my professional identity is not established, but it has been eye opening exploring values.

      Reply

    • Kat Rondina
      Jun 11, 2018 @ 15:46:01

      Taylor:
      I wouldn’t worry about not yet having thought about professional identity. It sounds like from the readings, as well as a couple extra non-scholarly articles I read through (https://ct.counseling.org/2012/03/a-closer-look-at-developing-counselor-identity/ is a good read that’s pretty relatable, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/art-trial/201509/who-am-i-fragmented-professional-identity is an interesting reflection about professional identity in a challenging environment), it seems to be more something you develop over time. It seems like experience really is the main teacher in professional identity. I can really relate to your self-care reflection as well. It can be really difficult to make time for self care when there’s just no free time to be had. It will be interesting next week to hear some recommendations for when there’s just too much going on in your life.

      (I apologize for the late reply.)

      Reply

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Adam M. Volungis, PhD, LMHC

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