Since the first edition of Counselor Self-Care came out in 2018, we have experienced many new stressors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, social injustice and political polarization. These events have presented new challenges and highlighted the need for self-care even more. Gerald Corey, Michelle Muratori, Jude Austin and Julius Austin recently released the second edition of their book Counselor Self-Care, which offers personal narratives and practical advice on managing stress, establishing boundaries, finding meaning in life, improving relationships and putting a self-care plan into action.
Counseling Today spoke to Gerald “Jerry” Corey and Michelle Muratori, two of the co-authors, to learn more about this new edition. Corey is a professor emeritus of human services and counseling at California State University at Fullerton and a distinguished visiting professor of counseling at the University of Holy Cross in New Orleans. He is also a licensed psychologist and a fellow of three mental health organizations, including ACA. Muratori is a faculty associate in the School of Education at John Hopkins University.
How does the second edition differ from the first?
As co-authors, we encourage you to take an honest look at how you are caring for yourself and providing care for the clients you serve. We are involved in professional work in different settings and are at different stages in our careers. Individually and collectively, we strive to offer a balance of challenge and support as you consider ways to enhance your personal and professional life through self-care. Here are some of the highlights of the second edition:
- Significant changes in the delivery of mental health services occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we discuss the shift in the delivery of mental health services, along with the increased demand for services, and how these changes have contributed to empathy fatigue and counselor burnout.
- Developing self-care strategies to cope with the stressors around COVID-19 is a new topic, and every chapter discusses the special challenges to self-care we face in a post-pandemic era.
- This new edition underscores the link between self-care and clinical competence. Making a commitment to self-care and wellness is a pathway to competent professional practice.
- We devote more time addressing ways to develop resilience in the face of increased sources of personal and professional stressors and ways to prevent burnout and impairment.
Since your first edition of Counselor Self-Care, we have faced several new challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic. How have these challenges changed the way counselors view or approach self-care?
The four of us felt compelled to revise this book largely because of the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and deteriorating societal conditions on counselors’ well-being. We are living in tumultuous times; we are experiencing polarization and divisiveness in society and attacks on well-established rights. We have witnessed the shocking overturn of Roe v. Wade and a sharp increase in oppressive legislation targeting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
Counselors have heard about the hazards of the profession and the importance of practicing self-care for many years, but this topic has often been given lip service. However, certain events of the past few years have been especially rugged, leaving mental health professionals vulnerable to undue stress, burnout, compassion and empathy fatigue, and vicarious trauma. As we say in our book, the demand for mental health services has skyrocketed as increases in social isolation, anxiety, depression and other signs of distress have been reported. Self-care is even more critical these days for helping professionals to maintain their wellness and clinical competence. Counselors have been tested in unprecedented ways, sometimes beyond their limits, so self-care must be a priority and counselors understand this in a very real way.
How does self-care differ depending on a counselor’s career stage or their professional setting?
At the various stages of our career, there are different challenges to be met. In Chapter 2 (“Seasons of a Career”), we describe some of our own challenges.
Jude and Julius Austin share their experiences in graduate school and show how they focused on surviving rather than thriving. Their self-care took a back seat to the demands of their graduate programs. Then, during the early part of their careers, the Austins had to balance self-care with the practical realities of getting married, purchasing a home, beginning a family and meeting the tasks of academic life as new professors.
Michelle Muratori also discusses how during the early stage of her career, she struggled with overcoming perfectionism in her work. By mid-career, she juggled many professional roles and found her passion in teaching counseling to graduate students. She realized that self-care was not optional if she wanted to succeed in her career.
During his early career, Jerry Corey lived for his work, but then by the middle of his career, he learned that there were limits to what he could do professionally and still take care of himself.
Every stage of our career taught us that self-care was not just a luxury but a necessity to be able to enjoy a full and productive life.
What are some lessons you have learned about your own self-care throughout your professional careers?
I (Jerry) have been an educator for 60 years, and at the late stage of my career, I recognize how crucial it has been for me to practice self-care over the span of these years. For example, I have been committed to an exercise program since my 20s, and now at age 86, I attribute the stamina I possess for teaching and writing to decisions I made earlier in life, such as taking care of myself physically.
Another key lesson I learned is the importance of professional relationships. I have not retired, but I have slowed down some. I currently teach intensive courses in counseling theories, group counseling and professional ethics at the University of Holy Cross in New Orleans. In 2020, I was challenged to move from in-person classes to Zoom classes, and I discovered that this work provides a source of meaning and purpose in my life.
Throughout the book, I describe turning points in my professional journey and lessons learned about self-care and caring for others.
What are some tips for creating and committing to a self-care plan? What is included in the plan?
All four of us stress how essential it is to make a comprehensive assessment of how we take care of ourselves in all aspects of our lives and what changes we may want to make. A realistic plan is necessary if we hope to make changes in our ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. The plan must be your own and one that you are willing to consistently practice. When making your plan, consider the following:
- Don’t expect your plan to be perfect and give yourself permission to have setbacks.
- Be kind and compassionate with yourself and realize that being harshly self-critical will not help in making the changes you desire.
- Realize that if you want to take care of others, you must first take care of yourself.
(See Chapter 9 for specific guidelines on what to include in an effective action plan.)
What are three good strategies for managing stress as a counselor?
In our book, we discuss several stress-management strategies, including mindfulness, meditation, tai chi, yoga, Pilates, experiencing nature, religious and spiritual involvement, sound nutrition, exercise, recreation, service to others, personal therapy and cultivating the practice of self-reflection. The truth is that we all have preferences for certain forms of self-care and stress management, so we hesitate to recommend particular strategies over others.
I (Michelle) find that spending time in nature does wonders for my soul. I often drive to a nearby lake to give myself time to reflect, get some fresh air and take a brisk walk. I also have benefitted from personal therapy, managing my boundaries and practicing breathing techniques to keep my stress at bay. Connecting with friends over the phone or Zoom and watching my favorite shows to change focus and immerse myself in someone else’s story have also been essential to my wellness and stress management.
While some self-care practices may be helpful for all of us, we must be willing to engage in practices that have meaning to us. A “good strategy” is one that we can commit to putting into practice.
Self-care can be particularly challenging for counselors working with trauma, grief and loss. What advice do you have for counselors working in these areas?
The book features several outstanding essays on the topic of self-care from professionals in the field. In one essay, Dr. Sherry Cormier, a certified bereavement trauma specialist, shares insights about self-care for grief counselors and provides sage advice on how they can remain grounded while working with clients who are in so much pain. She recommends the following:
- Learn to sit with clients without absorbing their emotional energy.
- Be mindful of your breathing during sessions and use self-care tools to disconnect after intense interactions with grieving clients.
- Debrief with a colleague and release anything that does not belong to you.
- Use movement and physical exercise to release stuck energy.
Counselors working with clients experiencing grief, loss and trauma are at risk of empathy fatigue. Helping clients requires us to be present and make connections, but we also need to find ways to disconnect.
Watch a promotional video about the book and hear from Jude and Julius Austin, the other co-authors.
Order Counselor Self-Care (second edition) from the ACA Store.
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