Frontline Initiative: Self-Care for DSPs

Do You Have What it Takes to Bounce Back?


Maren Gibson is a DSP, trainer, Solutions consultant, and executive coach at DSP Solutions Coaching LLC in Salem, Oregon. Maren can be reached at

Photo of the back side of a human fist with the tattoo, "Resilence".

If you have provided direct support for over a year, you have probably had the feeling, or thought, “What am I doing here? Do I even want to come back to work tomorrow?” Many of us who have served as Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) have had that thought. We have had that moment where we second guess our chosen line of work. Sometimes, this is when people decide that the job is not for them, or they are not “cut out” for this type of work. What is the difference in the people that stay? Who are the people who come back day after day? And how do they do it?

Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. Resilience is not a trait that individuals either have or do not have. Resilience involves behaviors, thoughts, and accompanying feelings that can be nurtured, developed, and learned. Resilience has also been labeled as grit, the ability to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get back to work.”

Resilience is not a trait that individuals either have or do not have. Resilience involves behaviors, thoughts, and accompanying feelings that can be nurtured, developed, and learned.

Resilience is best created through relationships that provide unconditional love, honest feedback, an opportunity to fail and grow, and a group of people with whom you can share your experiences. When we are a part of a group that we enjoy, typically other DSPs, we feel that we “should” do something for the greater good. You can think of this as peer pressure for positive support and outcomes. This feeling of healthy obligation, pushes us through our fear, knowing we have support. We feel that it will be okay if we fail, we will still be accepted and loved.

I am a sister of a person with a disability, and I have been a DSP for over 17 years. Trust me when I tell you, that if you love your job, you are in the right place. You are here not to get rich or be famous. You are here to provide opportunity and support to people that deserve it. But don’t forget about yourself in this process.

Here are some quick tips to be more resilient

  1. Make sure you feed your heart and soul! Our happiness is like an inner gas tank. If you empty it to make sure everyone has their share of happiness, make sure you create the time to fill it back up! Do what you truly want for at least 30 minutes per day.
  2. Set aside down time for your brain! When we are supporting someone at work, we have a heavy role. Often times, we have other people at home we care for as well. Make sure that your brain gets some play time also. We are lifting heavy weights all day, administering medication, navigating employment, learning about diagnoses, stabilizing crises, and teaching life skills. Take time to think of nothing and have no responsibilities at least four hours a week.
  3. Be open to love and positivity. Dealing with ups and downs of providing support can get frustrating after a while. It is easy to be negative and decline an opportunity to laugh, feel loved, and appreciate the beauty of life. Take walks, smell flowers, laugh if something funny happens. Let your heart be elated.

Data shows spending time in nature are some of the top resilience-building activities for children and adults who experience trauma. Take a moment to think of these two activities. Think of what they provide to the human experience. Think of how you, and the people you support, can benefit from enjoying those activities.

During this journey we call life, you may or may not have naturally created “resilience builders.” Resilience builders are different situations or relationships that have safely pushed you past your comfort zone into the unknown where we discover personal confidence. Here is a quiz to help you assess your resilience builders.

Keep in mind that the people we support also need opportunities to build resilience. Everyone needs to feel the ups and downs of life, and the emotions that make all this hard work worth our time. Feeling loved, challenged, supported, and enjoyed is what life is about. You can use the resilience builders quiz with a person you support. How many resilience builders do they have an opportunity to experience? Use my three tips to make sure the people you support are having fun and feeling loved.

With cell phones, social media, and instant gratification across the board, we are more disconnected than ever from the situations in life that create deep human experiences of enjoying life. Belly laugh until tears run down your face. Smell the flowers you walk by. Live in partnership. Love and be loved.