Self-Care & the 5 Senses


by Liz Gray, LCSW, RPT

At my first job out of graduate school, I provided short-term crisis intervention to children and adolescents in their homes, school, and communities after they had been hospitalized for psychiatric and behavioral concerns.  I worked closely with their families and schools, with an average of 40-50 clients on my caseload at a time. I was on top of my game as a social worker, yet after a few months of this work, I remember asking my friends and family,

“Is it time to retire yet?”

I meant that half-jokingly, but the truth is, I was BURNT OUT.  I devoted almost every evening to my job, often not eating dinner until after 9pm.  I was so concerned about meeting my agency’s goals of a certain number of billable hours that I forgot to take care of myself in the process.  I only lasted 1 year at the agency.

Since then, I have done my best to maintain a more balanced life.  Something I love to use in my own life and with clients is to think of self-care in terms of the 5 senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste.

One of my favorite interventions to use with clients, especially when we are resourcing coping skills through Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is the 5-4-3-2-1 activity to bring your attention to the present.

In the moment, identify:

5 things you SEE (i.e. currently I see my dog, TV, computer, lamp, and headphones);

4 things you HEAR (I hear birds chirping, TV in the background, air conditioner, and phone buzzing);

3 things you TOUCH (I’m touching my keyboard, smoothing out my hair, and petting my dog);

2 things you SMELL (I currently smell mints and my latte);

1 thing you TASTE (I’m swishing an ice cube in my mouth).

Here are some variations on using the 5 senses:

Turn the 5 senses into a fun competition!

While doing an activity (i.e. taking a walk) with a family member, significant other, or friend, see who can come up with the most ways to engage all of your senses!  Above, I listed 15 things I saw, heard, touched, smelled, and tasted while writing this article. How many can you find while taking a walk? Baking cookies? Exercising?

Make a list

Start a list of your favorite things, organized by senses.  Have this list be portable and accessible (maybe even on your “notes” list in your phone) so you can continually add to it!

Literally STOP- and smell/touch/taste/see/hear the roses

It’s so easy for us to go through our day without hitting “pause.”  Next time you’re out, take a minute to examine an object. Let’s stick with the rose theme.  Pick a petal. What color(s) is it? Does it look shiny and smooth or rigid? How does it smell?  Do you notice a difference with your eyes open or closed? Put the petal between your fingers and rub it.  Now scan the petal over your palm and back of your hand, maybe even on your arm or ears! How does it feel?  After that, see if you hear anything when you bend or fold the petal. And finally, if you’re adventurous enough, how does the petal taste?  (I might imagine how it would taste rather than actually putting it in my mouth, but to each their own)!

How do YOU plan to use the 5 senses in your own self-care?

Liz Gray, LCSW, RPT is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Registered Play Therapist in Connecticut.  Liz works with children, adolescents, and young adults, and especially loves to use EMDR and sandtray therapy when working with clients.  For more information, contact Liz HERE!


Shopping for your therapist: helpful tips (and cute puppy pics)!

When I brought home my mini goldendoodle at 8 weeks old, I was completely unprepared for my naughty puppy.

Photos by Liz Gray, LCSW, RPT

Surprisingly, the majority of my stress as a new “doodle mom” wasn’t from Bailey’s shredding, or her accidents, or even when she escaped the back deck and ran into a stranger’s house! My stress came from finding her the right GROOMER.

I took Bailey to three different groomers until we found the right fit. Now, my only criteria for a groomer, other than treating my pup well, was to not “poodle my doodle.” Don’t get me wrong, I love the poodle in her (she’s 75% poodle, after all)-including her intelligence, major stubbornness (its amazing how a 15 lb dog becomes 100 lbs when she doesn’t want to go in the car), and loving personality. But I’m not a fan of the shaved face and paws, aka the traditional poodle cut.

Unfortunately, Bailey got “poodled” a few times.

Photo by Liz Gray, LCSW, RPT
Each groomer we went to had a different setup. One came to our home, one was at a grooming salon, one was at an animal shelter, and one had a small in-home salon.

Were any of these groomers bad? NO! They all treated me, and most importantly Bailey, with kindness. Was one a better fit than the others? Most certainly. How did I know? I knew I found the right fit when she:

  • Listened to my concerns,
  • Answers my questions,
  • Explained what she was doing (and WHY), and
  • Changed strategies when something wasn’t working.

When Bailey was upset while getting the full blast of the hairdryer in her face, my groomer kept the hairdryer on low and angled it away from her face instead. Because Bailey cried and screamed the whole time when I left, we both agreed that I would stay during her haircuts. We worked together to decrease Bailey’s stress and we became a team.

What does this have to do with finding a therapist? Everything!

Just like I shopped around for a groomer, it’s important to shop around for a therapist. In other words,



The most important part of a therapeutic relationship is just that- the relationship. Even if a therapist has the most outstanding credentials and experience, if you don’t feel a connection or comfortable with them, it’s just not the right fit.

Does that mean they are a bad therapist? NO! Are some therapists a better fit than others? Most certainly YES.

You see, Therapist A might not be the right therapist for you, but they are the right fit for many other people. Client B may not be the right client for me, but I am the right fit for many others.

When choosing a therapist, it’s perfectly acceptable to do your own research before you ever reach out.  You may have preferences about the following:

  • Gender/ age/ location
  • Availability (i.e. do they have evening or weekend openings)?
  • Are they in-network with my insurance company?  If not, does their full fee fit into my budget?  Will they provide me with a Superbill to submit to my insurance for out-of-network benefits?
  • Are they in private practice, a group practice, a nonprofit agency, or a community mental health agency?
  • What are their credentials? (i.e. Licensed Clinical Social Worker- LCSW vs. Licensed Professional Counselor- LPC vs. Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist- LMFT)
  • What is their theoretical orientation?  (i.e. do they practice Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)? Sandtray therapy? Are they trained in couples? Children? Anxiety disorders?)
  • Do they offer a free consultation? (many, but not all therapists offer this).

Once you have an idea of the type of therapist you would like, it may be helpful to narrow your search to 2-3 people who fit your criteria.  When reading their profile on websites such as Psychology Today or looking at their individual website, do you feel like they are speaking to you and your struggles?  Do they emit warmth and genuineness?

Do you think they could help you?

After finding the therapist(s) you would like to contact, give them a call or send a brief message to set up a consultation.  Make sure you don’t give too much detailed information in the initial message, as it is most likely not a secure form of communication.  If you are able to set up a consultation, think of it as a very informal interview, where both parties are seeing if it is the right fit.  If you don’t want to move forward, it is okay to say so.  If the therapist thinks someone with a certain specialty may be a better fit, hopefully they will provide you with some referrals.

If both of you agree that it is a right fit, your therapist will most likely suggest to set up an intake session.  They may have paperwork for you to sign electronically before the session, print out ahead of time, or fill out when you arrive.

I wish you the best of luck in finding the right therapist.

Now, go ahead and start your search!

P.S. I recently moved, so I need to start my search for a groomer all over again!

[Bailey’s reaction when I told her the news.]

Photo by Liz Gray, LCSW, RPT


Liz Gray, LCSW, RPT is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Registered Play Therapist in Connecticut.  Liz works with children, adolescents, and young adults, and especially loves to use EMDR and sandtray therapy when working with clients.  For more information, feel free to CONTACT ME!