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Saturday, 27 August 2016 00:00

Letter from Your clinical psychologist

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by Paul Micallef BA DClinPsych CPsychol(UK)
Chartered Clinical Psychologist &
Consultant/Advisor for Staff Training and Retraining

As summer approaches, more and more members have some time to reflect on the stresses of life and what one can do to minimise the effects of these stresses. TheSYNAPSE has invited a highly experienced clinical psychologist to share some useful advice with members. This will be spread out over a series of articles, each in the form of a letter. The aim of these articles is to help readers improve the quality of their personal lives

Dear colleague,

I have been invited by the editorial board to write four brief letters that will sow some seeds of personal awareness and self care in you as an esteemed reader of The Synapse Magazine.  I have been asked to share with you a few practical tips and ideas about how you, as a professional person and a human being working in our health sector, can achieve a healthier work-life balance.  This is my first letter to you out of four, all of which will cover different but complementary areas of work-life balance.

I know that the area of self care and anything to do with psychology is often considered as ‘exotic’ by many in the medical and paramedical professions.  So for you to read on, I really have to trigger your curiosity fast.  Will certain buzz words that you might imagine as being linked to you personally, like communication, loneliness, stress, burnout, anxiety and depression do the trick?  Or are you more into the scarier tactics like ‘have a heart attack’ or ‘you need to see a psychologist’ help you to read on?

I would appreciate some of your time because I am sure that like me, you too are aware that the number of colleagues finding themselves in psycho-social difficulties and seeking professional help is increasing.  I also know that a contribution like this in such a publication is different to what you are normally used to.  Shining a spot light on our own needs is not generally welcome but this initiative by The Synapse is genuine and truly deserves support and praise.

I take it for granted that you care for yourself even if you work too many hours and find it hard to relax and reflect on your own personal needs and expectations.  I believe that for someone who is constantly looking after and addressing the needs of other persons, like patients and clients, so that they can be reasonably happy and healthy, you too merit the same treatment and care.  

To me, good health implies a reasonably happy balance in the following human dimensions - mental, physical, emotional, spiritual and social.  If one or more dimension is not within personally acceptable limits, then the person tends to pass through a distressing or vulnerable stage whereby his/her behaviours are also influenced.  The longer this stage persists, the more worrisome and difficult the situation becomes.   

I believe that the first step towards a happier and healthier well-being is good intra-personal communication.  With good intra-personal communication you enjoy a level of self awareness that in turn allows for a better appreciation of and response to core personal needs and expectations.  Once your needs and expectations are being truly respected and understood, then the first and most important step towards self care and a better work-life balance is done.  With this achievement secured, intrinsic motivation for more self awareness and action increases naturally.  In turn this encourages you to pursue previously considered alien behaviours that will in turn help you achieve the work-life balance and self care you deserve.  

Being able to communicate with yourself in a healthy and constructive manner is both necessary and satisfying.  I encourage you to take some time and space to perform a short pencil and paper exercise as my first recommendation for the day.  

Take a clean sheet of paper, empty on both sides, and something to write with and follow the following 5 simple steps outlined here below.  Do not skip any steps and this ‘activity map’ exercise will take you about 15 minutes to do.  

Step 1

On one side of the paper, make a general list of where your time goes over a normal 7-day period.  How do you normally spend the 168 hours in a week?  What do you generally do with your time?  Consider how much time you dedicate over one whole week to sleep, to work, to hygiene, to eat, to shop, to exercise, for chores, pets, television, etc.  Take the most obvious chunks of time and list them down so that when you add them all up, altogether, you reach a total of 168 or thereabout.  Do not worry too much about reaching an exact 168 hours!

Step 2

Once you are ready and you have a reasonable breakdown of activities, turn the piece of paper and find a creative way to map the sub totals you listed in terms of hours. You can either map the hours in a terms of a pie chart, or a histogram with activities along the x-axis and time on the y-axis.  Just find a simple and visual way to represent your activities.

Step 3

Once you finish your ‘activity map’, look at it as objectively as possible and reflect on this question:  ‘When I look at this map, what does it say about the person who drew it?’  

Take a few moments to reflect and write down what comes to your mind on your piece of paper.  Write down what the map says about the person who drew it.  Try to be as objective as possible.  

Step 4

Well, what do you think?  Are you happy or dissatisfied with what you objectively see in yourself?  Is there something in particular that concerns you or that you are proud of?  Is there something you would like to address or do differently?  Note your answers down on your piece of paper for future reference.  

Step 5

Now look at the map again and see whether there is any time dedicated to you.  A slot just for you. The actual amount of time you spend with yourself is not too relevant but the important thing is that you have some time for yourself that is enough for you.  This is the actual personal free time that can fluctuate somewhat depending on family obligations, but which still remains important and necessary at all times during your life.  This is the personal time you need to be with yourself and communicate intra-personally.  It is the time you need to perform certain activities, physical and mental, that in turn help you to remain reasonably healthy and happy over time.


When persons occupying similar positions to you perform this exercise, they normally become consciously aware of how little time they actually dedicate and have for themselves personally.  They realise that they have no time to reflect on their own personal needs and expectations, as well as little, if any, time to plan what they can do to address these needs and expectations.  This implies that there is little intra-personal communication and that self awareness is low and potentially counterproductive to a positive self-esteem and self-confidence.  In turn, this influences how we tend to deal with and view personal problems.  The ‘me’ starts to vanish and instead one finds it easier to focus on the needs and expectations of other people rather than oneself.  These include family members, patients, clients, friends and acquaintances.

If on the other hand you are pretty self disciplined and regularly take the time to respect your own needs sometime during the week or at the weekend, then you are lucky and doing the right thing. Do your utmost to protect and consolidate this enviable position and time because you are likely to be more satisfied and happy with yourself and your work.  

If you lack enough time for yourself, then the question which obviously follows is, ‘When are you going to start reorganising your needs and expectations so that you too can get some attention and space?’  

In the next three letters to be published over the coming issues, I will write to you about how mental programming and assertive communication skills heavily influence the way we view ourselves and the decisions we take to self care and to achieve a healthier work-life balance.  Later on, I will also outline ways for you to recognise and address signs and symptoms of negative pressure, stress and burnout and will highlight ways to enhance self-esteem and personal confidence to prevent anxiety, depression and loneliness in your life.

Additional Info

  • TheSynapse Magazines: 2007
Read 3130 times Last modified on Sunday, 20 November 2016 14:39


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