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Wellness Defined

Why is it important that counselors take care of themselves?

Everyone deserves good care, and counselors are included in that “everyone.” We are entitled to the same riches of health, joy, peace, connection, and opportunity that we wish for our clients and the communities we serve. 

Additionally, counseling is a profession dependent upon our ability to be authentic and attune empathically, as it is through this process of careful attunement that healing and growth occur. Research consistently demonstrates that the quality of the therapeutic relationship is more predictive of counseling outcome than any other factor. Since the self of the counselor is an essential component of effective counseling, it is vital that we nourish our own wellness. When we are well, we are better able to connect with our clients, more attentive and creative in our work, and less likely to make clinical errors or violate boundaries.

We also serve as role models for our clients. We, therefore, need to be aware of the messages we teach clients when we honor boundaries or neglect to set them, when we take a day off to nurture our health or come into work sick, or when we model joy and curiosity or unintentionally share the flat affect of our unresolved grief or depression.

When we are distressed or impaired, our ability to attune accurately is jeopardized. When impaired, we may make decisions that endanger our clients or, at least, have the potential to harm them.  Because counselor wellness and impairment are on a continuum from well to stressed to distressed to impaired, it is critical that we continually monitor where we are on that continuum and address any early signs of stress so that we don’t move further down the continuum. We are instruments of healing. If we don’t keep our own instrument tuned, we won’t be useful in promoting wellness in others.  The airplane metaphor holds true here: If we don’t put our own oxygen masks on first, we won’t be able to care for anyone else.

Defining Wellness

Wellness is more than simply the absence of illness. Wellness involves a sense of happiness, joy, satisfaction, and balance. There are many aspects to wellness, and self-awareness is always the first step in creating meaningful and lasting change.

As Counselor Educators and Wellness Experts Myers and Sweeney (2005) wrote in their book Counseling for Wellness, “Wellness is both an outcome and a process, at once an overarching goal for living and a day-by-day, minute-by-minute way of being” (Myers & Sweeney, 2005a, p.9). Wellness involves actively making choices to create and maintain balance and to prioritize health of mind, body, and spirit. Myers and Sweeney’s Indivisible Self Model of Wellness and their Five Factor Wellness Evaluation of Lifestyle (5F-WEL – Available through www.mindgarden.com) provide a comprehensive look at the construct of wellness and a helpful assessment tool.  The Wellness Workbook by Travis and Ryan is a very user-friendly, self-assessment resource that offers tons of practical intervention strategies to address all aspects of life. 

Aspects of Wellness

Some basic domains of wellness to assess and address include physical wellness, emotional wellness, cognitive wellness, interpersonal wellness, and spiritual wellness.

Physical wellness includes nourishing our bodies through nutrition, sleep, exercise and movement, drinking plenty of water, and learning strategies to decrease stress and increase relaxation.

When we nurture our emotional wellness, we engage in practices of personal reflection, are willing to notice and respect our feelings and not shut them down, and are able to express and accept the full range of our emotions from ecstatic joy to deep grief and anger.

Counselors can promote their cognitive wellness by being curious, engaging in dynamic conversations with colleagues, enjoying the depth and complexity of the work, challenging thought distortions, celebrating personal and professional victories, and trusting clients’ innate capacity for resiliency and healing.

Spiritual wellness refers not only to our belief in and connection to something greater than ourselves but also to our ability to find meaning and sustain hope in the face of crisis. While organized religion can be supportive of spiritual wellness, it can also be cultivated through mindfulness practices, a connection with nature, and any framework that enriches understanding, facilitates meaning, and sustains hope.

We strengthen our interpersonal wellness when we cultivate diverse and supportive relationships in our personal and professional lives. Clinical supervision, peer support, and personal therapy can greatly enhance our wellness. The importance of spending time with family, friends, and important people in our lives cannot be underestimated. The quality of that time is also essential. Even five to ten minutes with a child or close friend can be deeply meaningful and mutually rewarding – when we are able to really be mindfully present. When really present, it becomes less important whether we are playing together, having coffee, making a meal, or raking leaves. Those moments of true presence keep us connected to those we love and are the foundation for our strong relationships.

 

Copyright 2010 Elizabeth Venart, Licensed Professional Counselor in the Philadelphia Vicinity.
602 S. Bethlehem Pike, Ambler, PA 19002 • Phone 215.542.5004 • Email evenart@comcast.net
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