Personal Attitudes about Professional Wellbeing

By Wendy Papir-Bernstein, author of The Practitioner’s Path in Speech-Language Pathology: The Art of School-Based Practice

Within our profession—whether student, professor, researcher or practitioner—we connect with people from a diversity of fields.  Have you noticed how some seem happier than others?  They excel at their work and communicate a sense of enthusiasm, passion and professional fulfillment. It shows on their faces and use of body language, their social interactions, and of course through their work.  Researchers from the field of positive psychology tell us that happiness, whether personal or professional, is driven by the same themes:  we want to make a difference, we want to be useful, we want to connect with something greater than ourselves, we want balance in our lives, and we want community (Haidt, 2006).  It all seems pretty basic and yet it can be our greatest challenge.

One reason may be that we sometimes think of ourselves as consummate caregivers, and this culture of self-sacrifice is naturally carried over into our work setting.  I remember the moment many years ago when I first thought this idea.  I was on a plane, traveling out of the country.  The flight attendants spoke about safety regulations, demonstrated oxygen masks, and I thought I knew the drill well.  This time, however, I really heard it for the first time.  When they explained how important it was for you to put on your own oxygen facemask first—before helping anyone else with their own—I understood and took it to heart.  After returning to work, I made some immediate changes with priorities and strategies for my own self-care.

Bottom line—our work reflects our personal attitudes about our own wellbeing, as much as it does about the wellbeing of our patients, clients, and students. In fact, these attitudes are an integral component of clinical expertise, and will drive the success of our practice.  The significance of “personal attitudes and qualities” has recently been expanded in both ASHA’s 2014 clinical competency standards as interaction and personal qualities, and in the 2015 revision of standards for accreditation of graduate programs as professional practice competencies (ASHA, 2014; 2015).  Attitudes provide the framework and the context for what happens within the clinical and educational processes, and are thus the most critical “tool” in the profession. As it has been discussed within the medical profession, the most valuable part of the stethoscope is the part that rests between the ears.  And so, prescriptions for our own self-care and wellbeing must be at least as important as care for the people who receive our services (Traux & Mitchell, 1971).

What do we mean by professional wellbeing? While wellbeing is difficult to define and measure, we do know that it involves maintenance of equilibrium easily offset by life’s challenges.  It is sometimes linked to Aristotle’s idea of “eudaimonia”, the belief that the overarching goal of all human actions is to flourish (Bradburn, 1969).  Martin Seligman, another leader in the positive psychology movement, developed a theory about the building blocks for a life that flourishes, which he coined PERMA: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment (2011).  All of this contributes to a feeling of success.  Wellbeing has been compared to quality of life, which is defined by The World Health Organization (WHO) as “an individual’s perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns” (WHO, 1997).

Paths, roads or ways are metaphors for the possibility that there is a connection between all we are and do.   Our chosen path is the practitioner’s path, where our work becomes about who we are as well as about what we do.  As we think about building, supporting, traveling and ultimately manifesting our path—we create a sense of passage within phases of our professional life that fosters balance, self-care, and reflective practices. As we approach the inevitable forks on our professional paths, let’s reflect upon the values we live by, the qualities and attitudes we embody, and the examples we model for others.  Nothing becomes more valuable than establishing our own set point for wellbeing, and building strategies for maintaining that sacred balance between our personal and professional self.

References

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (2014) Standards for the Certificate of                  Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology. Retrieved from                  http://www.asha.org/Certification/2014-Speech-Language-Pathology-                               Certification-Standards/

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (2015). Proposed Revised Standards                 for Accreditation of Graduate Education Programs in Audiology and                                 Speech-Language Pathology. Retrieved from
http://caa.asha.org/wp-content/uploads/Accreditation-Standards-for-                                 Graduate-Programs.pdf

Bradburn, N. (1969). The structure of psychological well-being. Chicago, IL: Aldine.

Haidt, J. (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis. New York, NY: Basic Books

Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish – A new understanding of happiness and well-being                 – and how to achieve them. London, England: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

  Traux, C. B., & Mitchell, K. M. (1971). Research on certain therapist interpersonal skills                  in relation to process and outcome. In A. E. Bergin & S. L. Hartfield (Eds.),                  Handbook of psychology and behavior change. New York, NY: Wiley.

World Health Organization. (1997). WHOQOL Measuring Quality of Life. Geneva,                           Switzerland: World Health Organization.

2 thoughts on “Personal Attitudes about Professional Wellbeing

  1. I was pleased to find that the article, Personal Attitudes about Professional Wellbeing was extremely relatable and humbling. Reading this article reminded me of why I initially wanted to enter this field. Wendy Papir-Bernstein summarized many key points in how working as a speech-language professor, speech-language researcher or speech-language practitioner fulfills our satisfying need of wanting to make a difference. Also, the emphasis on self-care is essential to note, as I find that many professionals often see past this health policy. We cannot care and tend to others, if we do not care and tend for ourselves first.

    Thank you, Wendy Papir-Bernstein for also sharing a pivotal moment in your personal life, which caused you to make immediate changes with priorities of your own self care. I shared a similar moment this year, which has led me to take better care of my mental and personal health. I am actually currently seeing a mental health counselor on a weekly basis as I found myself overworked and overwhelmed with my studies. After daily panic attacks/outbursts, which eventually affected my professional work, I finally saw the importance of personal and professional wellbeing. I think it is essential for active and successful SLPs such as yourself to speak out about the importance of not just making time to take care of others, but yourself as well. Reading this article made me aware of the importance there is in this helping field to practice what we preach. If we expect to adequately and effectively treat clients, we must devote attention to self-care first!

  2. Super interesting and kind of inspiring is the article Personal Attitudes about Professional well-being by Doctor, Papir-Bernstein. It is important that in any society and in some aspects of any professional’s life either emotional, economical, or physically, a certain level of stability would give our clients a sense of trust. Not only in our working pace but, everywhere we go and who we interact with. Additionally, our representation and the way we treat ourselves and others is usually what we get in return. In our field, it is essential to care and be willing to know more about other people believes and values as a way to show them the respect that sub sequentially would make them feel that you care about their situation.

    In any career path that we decide to serve in, it is important to feel connected and to be passionate about it. It is crucial that we enjoy what we are doing. Overall, people feel happy and more comfortable when they see that the person in charge is positive about what they are doing and that would also reflect positive energy to the people around them. Especially for our profession of Speech-Language Pathology, if a client does not feel that sense of love and respect along with specific knowledge of what we do they are not going to be positive and or confident about their actions.

    I would like to give my cordially thanks to Professor Papir-Bernstein for this wonderful article. In our daily busy lives, we tend to forget about us because of our personal situations and difficulties at the moment and somehow that we might carry them wherever we go. This article made me do some reflections about myself if I don’t take care of me, how I would take care of others?

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