Leveraging apps for counselor self-care

Susan B. Rainsberger, Adam Fishel & Raul Machuca October 1, 2013

EMHS_iPhone_AppConsidering the very demanding and giving nature of counselors, it may come as no surprise that counselor self-care is often put on the back burner. The purpose of this month’s column is to share apps we have found to be the best for counselor self-care across three dimensions of wellness: physical, psychological and emotional.

Physical wellness

A quick search of the literature reveals that exercise is associated with relief and recovery from symptoms of depression, anxiety and other stressors, while also helping to improve overall quality of life. With thousands of apps available that provide advantageous outcomes and minimal adverse effects, counselors can improve their own diet and exercise practices, while also using those apps as tools for clients in practice.

Apps for exercise

Apps that promote exercise and healthy eating fall under the health and fitness categories. Most have a psychoeducational component to them, teaching individuals about the benefits of exercise and helping users to plan a routine through the use of goal setting and reminders. Many of these apps also incorporate biofeedback through counting calories and movements. We have found the following apps can be guides to a thriving life.

Fitness Builder is an app that features 800 workouts and more than 5,000 exercises. It personalizes routines on the basis of the user, showing the proper form and providing the reasoning behind each exercise. FitnessFast and StrongLifts are similar apps that allow for recording and journaling, while DailyBurn streams workout videos directly to your phone. Moves is an app that functions as a pedometer to track your steps throughout the day. It captures whether you walk, run or cycle and displays stats based on your activity.

Several apps focus on helping to inspire and motivate. Teemo, Fitocracy, Nike Training Club, Cody-Celebrate Your Fitness and Endomondo all allow users to track fitness stats and share with friends on the social plane. Everest provides step-by-step tips, reminders, short-term and long-term goal management, and social networking features so users can get encouragement from others. If you can’t seem to motivate yourself to get to the gym, GymPact might help. It incentivizes users to “check in” at the gym to receive a predetermined amount of money they have set aside. If they do not check in, the money is forfeited.

Apps for healthy eating

Although exercising and eating right take time, the benefits of mental clarity, increased energy and a sense of equanimity make using these apps an easy choice. In today’s world of “magic” diets and mystery ingredients, we have found that many apps dealing with proper nutrition provide pragmatic and valuable tools for counselors. Proper nutrition alone offers powerful, life-changing benefits. Research has shown that eating a diet based on whole foods, as opposed to a diet based on processed foods, is correlated with better mental health.

Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker enables users to set goals, browse food nutrition information and track food intake, exercise and progress. Fooducate and the Healthy Diet and Grocery Food Scanner are similar educational, interactive apps that allow users to search foods or scan bar codes to receive information and nutritional ratings for items. Healthy Habits is a behavior modification app for implementing an exercise routine and healthier diet. It provides tracking features and reminders, custom motivations, rewards and inspirational quotes. Locavore and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Eat Local locate nearby markets and farms where your favorite healthy foods can be purchased.

Psychological and emotional wellness

Two other closely related dimensions of self-care are psychological and emotional wellness. Being psychologically and emotionally well as counselors enables us to be our best and, ethically speaking, lends itself to adhering to our obligation to improve clients’ well-being. It is widely believed in our field that it is particularly important to be preventative when it comes to self-care so that when we do encounter challenging times, we are more resilient and better able to push through.


We have found that mindfulness and meditative exercises are great preventative practice against compassion fatigue. In addition to the many personal psychological and emotional benefits of mindfulness, research has shown that patients of health care practitioners who practice mindfulness benefit psychologically, emotionally and physiologically as well. Practitioners of mindfulness are more centered individuals and are more integrated psychologically, emotionally and physiologically themselves. These benefits enable counselors to be more effective in practice; more comfortable with the use of silence; more fully present, empathic and compassionate with clients; and clearer on counseling goals.

To learn more about the concept of mindfulness, we suggest using the app Podcasts, which offers more than 400 podcasts on mindfulness and almost 100 on self-compassion. Mindfulness Attitude provides a guide using photographs and text on seven principles of mindfulness: nonjudging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, nonstriving, nonattachment and acceptance. Re-mindful offers the ability to set reminders throughout the day to take a mindfulness meditation break. Insight Timer – Meditation Timer facilitates a silent mindfulness meditation to the sound of Tibetan bowls. Complete Mindfulness: The Art of Being offers guided meditations and tools for growth. Yoga Studio and Daily Yoga are apps that facilitate mindfulness through the practice of yoga. Although yoga involves physical movements, it is primarily considered a psychological and emotional practice because its purpose is to attain a state of equanimity.

Emerging more recently as a form of mindfulness, the meditative practice of self-compassion is being considered as an agent of healing. Self-compassion is a pillar of emotional and psychological wellness. It entails acceptance, openness, genuineness and attuning to inner thoughts, feelings and sensations. Self-compassion is correlated with life satisfaction, social connectedness and inner strength. Often considered the antidote to self-criticism, self-compassion serves as a form of self-care in confronting one’s own perceived inadequacies and limitations.

Awakening Compassion (Pema Chodron) guides users to transform painful emotions into insight and the cultivation of compassion. The Mindfulness and Psychotherapy app (Thich Nhat Hanh) is an audio/visual guide for counselors who want to
practice mindfulness to improve their insight and find inner peace and compassion to better connect and facilitate therapy with their clients.

Finally, one of the most comprehensive apps for psychological and emotional wellness is GPS for the Soul, which gauges stress levels by measuring heart rate and heart rate variability. It then guides you to resources that will help you “course correct,” such as poetry, music, breathing exercises and pictures of loved ones. In this app, your guide becomes personalized, and social media features are built in. Also built in are psychoeducational bits about the adverse effects of stress.

We have provided suggestions in this article that have worked for us. The next step is to explore what works best for your own self-care practice. When selecting apps, users can evaluate them based on ratings, reviews and applicability. Individuals with physical or mental limitations should first consult with an appropriate health care professional before using apps for self-care purposes. Nevertheless, the beauty of apps is that they are portable, efficient and easily able to be leveraged by the busiest of people virtually anywhere.

Find the links mentioned in this article, as well as other links, on The Digital Psyway companion site at digitalpsyway.net. Did we miss something? Submit your suggestions to column editor Marty Jencius at mjencius@kent.edu.

Susan B. Rainsberger is a registered mental health counselor and marriage and family therapist intern at the Coconut Grove Center for Counseling and a mindfulness instructor at the Cancer Support Community of Greater Miami.

Adam Fishel is a student intern at the Cancer Support Community of Greater Miami and a master’s student at Barry University.

Raul Machuca is an assistant professor and practicum and internship coordinator at Barry University.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org




  1. Evyn Lewis

    I have found that the Lose it! app works well for enabling users to set goals, browse food nutrition information and track food intake, exercise and progress too. (FREE on iOS & Android)

  2. Dy'an Marinos

    As a counselor in training, I’ve tried to make sure to engage in self care; taking a day away from internship, studies, and other duties. Each semester, I carve out some “me time” to avoid getting burned out and/or losing touch with those I love. However, SELF COMPASSION is a whole new level of care about which I had’nt heard before reading this article. While I appreciate the advice on apps offered in this article, technology changes so rapidly, it is difficult to know which will endure. Self compassion is a concept I can take with me throughout my education, career, and life.


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