February 17, 2023

Self-Care for Trainees and Supervisors

As a BCBA, how do you take care of yourself?  Self-care is often equated with self-soothing activities, which may be pleasant, but usually only have temporary positive effects.  A bubble bath, massage, or glass of wine are all nice; however, self-care that is more directly related to one’s work is crucial for professional satisfaction.  Consider teaching self-care skills to your trainees to promote their own professional satisfaction, and to help them guard against burnout.  These skills are crucial for success and field stability, but are usually not addressed in coursework or supervision curricula.


Before teaching others how to engage in self-care, however, we should feel comfortable doing it for ourselves.  Self-care can be seen as two related approaches to the activities we do in our lives, whether those activities are work-related, relationship-based, or any other life tasks.  The first approach is by behaving in accordance with personal values, and the second approach is self-compassion.

Acting on your values is only possible once you have identified those values, so think and talk with your trainee about your “why” as a behavior analyst.  There are a number of different exercises and ways to identify values, but one that we like to use is the “award game.”  Pretend you are being given an award as BCBA of the Year by B. F. Skinner (or whoever you most look up to in the field).  What three words do you hope to hear in their description of you?  Examples might be hard-working, compassionate, and effective.  Whatever words you choose, they probably reflect your values as a BCBA.  Does your work align with those values?  Are you able to be the kind of behavior analyst you wish to be?  If not, you might need to adjust your approach to your work or even your work situation to best meet your values and thus care for yourself.  Teaching trainees to approach their work from a values-centered orientation can help them to choose the most appropriate work environments and roles for themselves, and to manage their experiences for greater satisfaction.

The second part of self-care is engaging in self-compassion.  Compassion towards the self is the same as compassion towards others, requiring acknowledgement of pain and universality of human experiences.  Sometimes (or many times, in some cases), we have disappointing or painful experiences.  Everyone does.  Mindfulness allows us to see our experiences and separate from judgment, opening doors to kindness and acceptance.  Teach your trainees to label their feelings and understand them with the same understanding we teach them to show to clients.  While it may seem intuitive to understand and accept one’s own feelings, many times we find those feelings buried under layers of judgment.  Self-compassion means lifting that judgment and allowing feelings through - pleasant or not.  In doing so, we can show ourselves kindness and self-care. 

Values identification and self-compassion are far from easy to undertake, but there are many resources available to help in exploring these components of self-care.  Check the links at the bottom of this post for some places to start and share them with trainees.  This worthwhile journey to self-care is one that can be started at any point in one’s career, but giving your trainee this start can be a lasting gift.


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