Posted by Rachel Mallory.

When I worked with men in prison, a common expression used by both staff and inmates was that someone was “talking the talk, not walking the walk.” That is, they had a good line in what they knew they were supposed to do, but nothing was actually changing in their behaviour.

When I work with clients, there are some staple things that I recommend to deal with mood problems, anxiety, grief, trauma, relationship problems, and stress in general. I suggest that people exercise, that they talk to friends and family whom they can trust, that they search out in-person and online support groups, that they journal, meditate, and work on communication and boundary-setting with people in their lives. That they look after themselves, they are kind in their thoughts and actions to themselves and others, that they give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Sleeping well and cutting down on caffeine, alcohol and junk food are often in there too.

A long time ago, when I was doing my Ph.D., we had a class where psychologists with years of experience came in and talked to us about their professional lives. What kind of work they did, how they got to do different types of jobs and achieved various career paths, what advice they would give to someone starting out. I remember one in particular, a woman who I think was probably in her fifties or sixties at the time. She talked a great deal about skiing more and shopping less, about limiting practice in areas that are highly stressful, about making conscious choices not just about our careers, but about our whole lives. She also talked, I remember, about teaching a meditation class to people with cardiac problems, and doing the intensive meditation homework right along with them. She told us that you shouldn’t ask clients to do what you yourself are not prepared to also undertake.

At the time, I didn’t get it. I remember wondering when she was going to talk about the important stuff, like how you get your first job and if there were particular classes that I should and shouldn’t take, and whether opening a private practice was great or a nightmare.

Now I think it was probably one of the most important classes I was ever in. What she was really talking about was how to live your life in a sustainable way as a healthcare provider. Which overlaps a heck of a lot with how to live your life in a sustainable way for anyone.