John's Blog

The Blog of John Gibson, PhD

Practicing what I Preach: Renewal

This year I am doing something different: I will not be working for the month of August. The entire month. A month’s vacation, in other words.

I have not had two consecutive weeks off since my daughter was born. That was eighteen years ago. I decided it was time to take a sabbatical.

I’ve always believed in taking time away from work. In years gone by, I’ve taken several weeks off each year, just not all at once. Therapy is an intensive enterprise. There is such a thing as compassion fatigue. Therapists do get burned out. I don’t won’t these things to happen to me. By stepping away for a while, I know I’ll feel fresher, more present, and more available when I come back in September.

Taking this much time off at once was not a decision I made lightly. I know it’s disruptive for the clients I currently work with. And I have not taken on any new clients in some weeks, knowing that we would just get started but then have to take a four-week break. But I’m in this for the long-haul, you might say. A great deal of my life has been devoted to doing good work, to caring for people, to helping them improve their lives.
But taking care of myself is just as important as taking care of my patients.

So far, the most universal response I’ve received from clients is: “Good for you.” Most of my clients appreciate that I have a need to renew myself just like everyone else.

I might travel a bit. Or maybe walk the beach. Or walk my exuberant dog. I will seek more input–-reading, film, news, training, fresh ideas. I’ll spent lots of time with my wife and daughter. Or maybe I’ll sleep in. Or maybe I’ll let my mind wander and let myself be idle for a time.

A goose that lays golden eggs is a mighty fine thing. We can push the goose to lay more eggs, which may seem like a good thing in the short-run. But in the long-run, well, you kill the goose. Rest is essential.

Spiritual Issues

We all need a sense of meaning, direction, and purpose in our lives. This is what I mean by “spiritual issues.”

Take, for instance, the so-called “mid-life” crisis. What is this if it’s not a crisis of meaning? Questions that were once thought to be settled –- Who am I? What do I stand for? Where I am going? Why am I going? –- come flooding back. When that happens, the result is usually instability. Life keeps moving forward, but for a time, we try to make it go sideways.

(By the way, the mid-life crisis was once thought to universal. But researchers now believe this is no longer the case. Some people sail through mid-life without any stormy weather.)

Or what about the person who struggles to find a true vocation, a “right livelihood” as the buddhists might say. Good work –- meaningful work –- gives a sense of purpose. A job is one thing, but a job that employs our unique talents and strengths is a source of fulfillment, a reason to get up every day. It just feels “right.” But what if you fail to discover your vocation? Where do you fit in the world?

There are probably many different kinds of spiritual issues, but what they all have in common is a concern with the big questions in life. But when these questions go unanswered, or when the old answers have worn out, it’s not uncommon for people to feel distressed.

Therapy can help. Many people mistakenly believe that therapy is only for clinical problems like depression or anxiety or post-traumatic stress. But therapy can actually be quite helpful to the person who is struggling with spiritual issues. Therapy is about creating a narrative of your life, and it’s about finding or rediscovering your soul. In fact, these are the very things that therapy does best.