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Wellness Practices

Wellness Strategies for Counselors

Balance

Create and pay ongoing attention to the balance in your life – balance between work and play, giving and receiving, accomplishing tasks and “doing nothing.” Build time for yourself and with friends and family into your regular schedule. Do things you enjoy.

Practice Self-Care throughout the Day

Learn simple strategies to nurture yourself within your day, including nourishing ourselves with enough water, good nutrition, and movement/exercise. Learn strategies to use in the midst of doing counseling work (for example, deep breathing, movement, use of aromatherapy and essential oils in your office).

Seek support

Get your own counseling. Go for a massage or acupuncture treatment. Call a friend for a chat, coffee, or lunch. Talk with colleagues. Seek out clinical consultation or supervision.   
Peer groups – for support and consultation – can be a powerful antidote to the hazards of practice. Create your own peer group – for support and professional consultation.  Starting a group can be pretty simple. Email and call colleagues to see if they might be interested in meeting regularly to discuss cases and professional concerns. Many professionals will be eager to get together, and they may even recommend other practitioners for the group.

Reduce Isolation

Rural counselors, those in private practice, counselors in busy group practices, and those in overwhelmed community mental health settings can feel isolated. Sometimes by the reality of their geographic isolation and other times when the pace and demands of the job sometimes erode opportunities for connecting on more than a superficial level with peers. Staying well in these circumstances requires getting creative and actively working to gather the support you need. While our family and friends are critical supports in our lives, there is a limit to what we can discuss with them and the depth at which they’ll be able to understand our profession-specific concerns (unless they, themselves, are in the field – or another helping profession). To build your support network, try attending networking events, national and regional conferences, and professional training programs. Post questions and participate in online forums for counselors through sites like Linked In and Psychology Today.  Do research to find out who in your geographical region is doing similar work to you, contact them, and schedule a time to talk in person. 

When meeting in person isn’t possible, use the phone and email colleagues – to vent, to ask questions or for support, to take a moment to tell a joke or catch up. Even if your “local” colleagues end up being three counties or two hours away, they can be a resource for you. There are several free teleconference services (such as www.freeconference.com) where the only fee is the price of the phone call through your local phone service provider.

Prioritize What is Essential

It is helpful to practice sorting our “to do lists” into the truly essential tasks and those that are nonessential, in order to carve out more time to care for ourselves, unwind, and spend enjoyable time with people we love.  A counselor in one of my consultation groups recently told a story in which she was growing resentful of her husband and his ability to relax on his days off. In an argument with him, she had stated emphatically, “There are no days off in this household!”  While believing this assertion wholeheartedly as she was expressing it to him, she had to laugh at herself as she was recounting the story aloud in our group. She realized it wasn’t okay with her for him to have a “day off” because she had never considered the possibility that she, too, might be entitled to regular down time. We explored the undercurrent of beliefs that drive so many of us to push hard without resting, to put others before ourselves, and to deny our basic needs for rest, nourishment, and pleasure. Yes, some of the tasks of work and parenting and taking care of a home are essential, but some are not. Counselor wellness is sustained when we take an ongoing inventory of what’s truly important and make sure we’ve made ourselves a high priority on our running “list” of things requiring care.

Play and Laugh

Infuse a sense of play into your life. Laughter heals. A sense of play can help you and your clients remember that life need not always be so serious.  What about bringing in a Magic 8 Ball to work – even if only to the breakroom for you and your colleagues. I have a playful little wire figure of a girl sticking out her tongue that reminds me that humor is healing. Clients love this little figure and have commented that her silly irreverence inspires them to speak their mind and see the humor in situations. 

Why is it so hard for me to prioritize my own wellness?

Many counselors were peacemakers, listeners, and devoted caretakers long before they entered counseling as a profession. Some counselors may find it difficult to prioritize their own needs in the same way they prioritize others’ needs – and may even feel it would be impossible to prioritize themselves more than others. Those drawn to work in counseling may have learned at an early age to become other-focused rather than self-focused. As a result, they may not feel that they need or deserve the same nurturing they accept others need and deserve.  They may have exceptionally high standards for themselves and yet be compassionate and forgiving of the shortcomings, mistakes, or inconsideration of others. Some counselors may have trouble turning off the litany of “shoulds” that drive them to accomplish tasks and be there for others (clients, friends, family members, colleagues, etc.) without consideration for their own needs. 

If you are struggling to put these practices – and the many others you already know – into practice, you may want to consider exploring the thoughts and patterns that get in your way. Consider writing about it, talking with a counselor, and spending time in dialogue with friends and colleagues.

Counselors may need to examine and challenge some of their assumptions about helping (e.g. “I must have all the answers” or “This person needs me, so I must make myself available” or “When clients don’t get better, the counselor is always responsible”) as well as any irrational beliefs that drive their tendency to prioritize others before themselves (e.g., “I am unworthy” or “Their pain is more important than my happiness.”).  Counselors have blind spots like anyone, so they may not always know what these underlying assumptions are. Therefore, the importance of a strong professional community, one in which they can be authentic and one in which they are willing to be challenged, is vital. Peer support can be incredibly effective in improving self-awareness and supporting positive growth and wellness. Creating personalized wellness goals and committing to them in the company of colleagues can support counselors in turning plans into reality.  

 

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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