“Do you have a moment… ” is probably one of the things I’ve said most during my PhD and training as a psychologist.
- Do you have a moment…to run through this idea
- Do you have a moment…to have a coffee
- Do you have a moment…to debrief
- Do you have a moment…to read this
- Do you have a moment…to give me a hug
- Do you have a moment…to share a bottle of red 🙂
“Do you have a moment” hinges on there being someone to give you that moment and I think that is the theme of my (continued) coping throughout my clinical and research training. I have been surrounded by family, friends, peers, and supervisors who support me in their own unique way. In turn, I hope I provide them with the type of moments they need. Just as importantly, I feel I continue to grow in my ability to recognise when I need a moment to myself; away from the literature, away from the data, away from teaching or marking, away from my responsibilities and straight into a moment of (guilt-free?) self-care.
I believe there are a number of reasons both in and outside of my control which has shaped my ability to take advantage and share in these moments: a supportive team, firm boundaries, and an understanding of appropriate self-care.
A Supportive Team
While we don’t always have the ability to pick who is within a formal work/research team – such as if we’re placed in a default research lab at uni – I think there are practices we can cultivate to increase our ability to cope through our clinical/research training. Luckily, I’m a part of a research lab team who I genuinely enjoy spending time with and care about. We have been encouraged to develop a culture of openness and shared learning. There is an implicit expectation that if one of us develops a skill in something (e.g., stats software or methodology) we pass that knowledge throughout our team. Such an inclusive and open environment is a needed contrast to the, at times, ego-driven protectionism traditionally seen in academia.
During our applied training, we don’t often have a choice over who we share our office with or who else is doing the training program. We, therefore, may have to be the agent of change to cultivate an environment that works for us. Perhaps designated “quiet time”, where everyone can respect that people are hard at work, scoring assessment or planning our sessions. Similarly, designated “debrief time”, where everyone can be honest and vulnerable about classes or clients, etc.
This can often be even less in our control as a psychologist in private practice. The nature of conducting 50-minute sessions for 8 hours doesn’t leave a whole lot of room to be around the other psychologists or create much of a team. The onus, again, is on ourselves to create such a culture or seek opportunities to build our own support team.
To me, firm boundaries do not equate to rigid boundaries. By this, I mean I have a sense of what I think is an appropriate time to be working or relaxing. However, I also understand that the nature of doing research and being a clinician is that there are deadlines that sometimes just need to be met. So, while on the whole, I do not want to be filling my evenings or weekends with more follow-up emails, survey constructions, or letters to GP’s, I am prepared to do that when there are important deadlines looming. The inevitable sacrifices being made are in the parameters of what I find appropriate in my life, given my circumstances. This is, of course, deeply personal and likely affected by factors such as family and other work commitments. Being flexible does not, however, mean regularly sacrificing important events or moments which are fundamental to a meaningful and value-driven life. Saying no, asking for help, or requesting extensions are not evidence that we are failures or don’t care about our research or clients – it means that they are just one of many important parts of our lives.
Therefore, asking “Do you have a moment to help me with X” to a colleague, or “Do you have a moment to spend time with me doing [SELF-CARE]” to a friend, or perhaps “Do you have a moment to listen while I tell you I need to be left alone all Saturday morning” to your partner, is deeply important.
I think we all know – intellectually – the importance of self-care. We hear people talking about it, we see workshops about it, we may even preach to our students, peers, or clients about it. Somehow, we still convince ourselves it doesn’t apply to us. Given there are so many resources around about self-care, I won’t harp on about it here. It has taken me a number of times to feel completely overwhelmed, exceptionally low in mood, irritable and frustrated, all accompanied by a healthy dose of tears to recognise that I deserve to look after myself. For me to be available and ready for all the demands of a PhD and the demands of seeing clients as a psychologist, I have to be physically and emotionally ready. I still struggle to prioritise structured self-care, but the more I let go of the guilt, the easier it gets.
So perhaps ask yourself “Can I make a moment to spend time reading for fun”, or asking family whether they “Have a moment to walk around a park”, or asking your partner whether they “Have a moment to cook for you tonight”, might make all the difference.
So – thank you for this moment, indulging me in some thoughts and considerations of the practices I have to keep me sane through my PhD and clinical training.
How does this map to your experience?
Daniel J. Brown