Principles of RSM #18: Self-care is the first step to client care

This is it, folks: the last in the series of 18 Principles of Rubenfeld Synergy Method!  It took a little more than 18 weeks to do it, but this is it!

There’s plenty more to write about RSM, but if you have anything you’d really like to hear about, please, let me know by commenting here or contacting me.

This principle – self care is the first step to client care – may be my favorite.  It should be obvious by now that I am rather into self-care; I try to pay attention to my body’s messages, be conscious of undue self-criticism, and focus on the present both when I’m feeling low and when I’m having a great day.  I don’t always succeed perfectly, but all things considered, I tend to be pretty compassionate with myself.

But all of us, especially those of us in the healing professions or who care for young children, elderly folks, or sick family members, would be wise to remember this principle at least once a day.

Too often, doctors, massage therapists, chiropractors – name your choice of healthcare folks – grind themselves into the ground, supposedly in the service of the greater good: i.e., the health of their patients and clients.  In the process, however, they not only ruin their own health, but they can also put their clients’ safety in question.  The underslept doc who makes a crucial mistake with a patient in the middle of the night is a stock plot device on medical shows for a reason.  So many massage therapists I’ve known have stopped doing it after a few years because they’ve overtaxed their bodies, and some have had their relationship to touch skewed by boundary problems, some of which can occur when a person isn’t watching their own self-care closely enough.  And in Rubenfeld Synergy, where the practitioner is in direct contact with the client, it can be easy to become wrapped up in the client’s emotions, stories, and even physical problems if the Synergist isn’t careful.

When working with clients, Synergists seek to maintain a posture we call BOMA: Balance of Mechanical Advantage.  Before it got named all fancy, Ilana used to call it “monkey,” because it involves softening the knees, moving your pelvis back and down, letting your shoulders drop, and moving from a low, grounded place in the body.  It looks a little like a monkey-stance, a little like a balletic plié.  Moving from this place looks a bit like Tai Chi.  In the training, it is one of the first things we learn how to do – because it helps enormously in self-care.  Before we ever lay hands on a fellow student, let alone a client, we are taught the essential physical posture that will help us return to ourselves when we start to get lost.

Because it’s easy to get lost.  Massage therapists overtax their bodies so often because they are so focused on helping the client feel better that they don’t pay attention to their own posture and body mechanics.  As a Synergist, the tendency can be even worse, as we also deal with emotional material.  It’s happened to me: I’ve got my hands under someone’s head, I’m feeling in my own body how tense they are, and I’m listening to them talk about their sadness and sense of abandonment.  I’m so absorbed, and suddenly I realize that my knees are straight, my shoulders are forward and held, and I’m half-leaning over the client!  Meanwhile, I’m wondering why my back is starting to hurt – not to mention why I suddenly feel so sad and abandoned.

It can feel like a virtue to get so involved with a client’s story that you feel moved by it – I feel your pain – but it’s not actually especially useful to the client.  Being able to gently pull back in that moment, take a breath, maybe remove my hands, then come in and make contact again from a more centered place – is almost invariably the best thing I can do for that client in that moment.  But won’t they feel even more abandoned if I walk away at that moment?  No, probably not.  More importantly, how will they feel when they realize that you’re just as tense and scared as they are?

Self-care is the first step to client care – not just because an unhealthy Synergist can’t perform at as high a level, but because touch actually communicates what is going on in the Synergist’s body, not just what is going on in the client’s.  It is a two-way street, and as I’ll discuss in a future post, change happens in the relationship, not in isolation.

If you haven’t yet, go read the other Principles in the series.  The full list is here.

Published by Kamela Dolinova

Expressive arts adventuress: writing, performing, healing, loving.

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