Tag Archives: Self-care

Behind the Book: Counselor Self-Care (2nd edition)  

By Lindsey Phillips June 23, 2023

A woman sitting on a chair drinking coffee or tea with her eyes closed and the cover image of the Counselor Self-Care book, second edition

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. 

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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. 

Gerald Corey and Michelle Muratori sit together holding a copy of Counselor Self-Care, second edition

Gerald “Jerry” Corey and Michelle Muratori, two of the co-authors, display the second edition of Counselor Self-Care. (Photo courtesy of Heidi Jo Corey.)

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. 


Cover of Counselor Self-Care, second edition

 

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.

 


Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Recognizing burnout and compassion fatigue among counselors

By Madhuri Govindu April 6, 2023

A green sign saying "balanced" with an arrow pointing to the right and a red sign saying "burnout" with an arrow pointing to the left

Pixelvario/Shutterstock.com

When I was younger, I had a deep desire to be a crucial part of others’ lives, to help people unpack their emotions and difficult memories. I wanted to hold a sacred space for individuals to open up and share their traumatic experiences. As a result, when I was a teenager, I constantly pondered why a part of other people’s pain stayed with me. Why did I feel their pain, and what could I do to help them?

Early on in my counseling career, I realized that burnout and compassion fatigue are real issues that affect many counselors globally. While counselors help to heal clients’ diverse mental health issues, our own lives can be filled with unexpected ups and downs. Recognizing burnout and compassion fatigue before they set in has served as a saving grace for me while facing the harsh moments of our current realities.

Burnout vs. compassion fatigue

As mental health counselors, we have a professional responsibility to ensure that our clients are safe. At the same time, we have a personal responsibility to look after our own mental health. Burnout can occur easily when these two aspects get out of balance, and sometimes we tend to ignore the early symptoms, which include the following:

  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Negativity
  • Withdrawal
  • Fatigue
  • Cynicism

Burnout stems from deep exhaustion and a lack of motivation due to overexertion. Compassion fatigue, however, comes from the fatigue caused by dealing with others’ trauma and sufferings, and it is common in any type of profession that focuses on helping others. Here are some of the warning signs of compassion fatigue:

  • Avoidance
  • Addiction
  • Detachment
  • Sadness
  • Grief
  • Lack of intimacy

It can be difficult to determine if you are experiencing burnout or compassion fatigue. As a counselor, you will experience compassion fatigue when you are overwhelmed from focusing too much on others’ well-being and unable to manage their stress. If you have constant headaches, distressed feelings, unwanted thoughts and increased irritability that are affecting your overall life, you are likely experiencing compassion fatigue.

If you feel hopeless about the nature of your work and feel it has little positive impact on your life, however, you are probably experiencing burnout and are overworked. Burnout often occurs if you work long hours, are undercompensated for your workload and are short of some quintessential tools. These factors place you under extreme stress.

Tips to prevent burnout

As counselors, it is vital to understand that our lives can’t be free of stress. Instead, we can notice repetitive patterns caused by our compulsive habits that can lead to burnout. The key is to recognize unhealthy patterns and habits early on before they exert a stronger grip on us.

Here are some tips to prevent burnout:

  • Engage in your own personal therapy if needed.
  • Maintain a strong support system of friends, family members and fellow therapists. Also, let your supervisor know if you are experiencing any signs or symptoms of burnout; they can help you delegate your responsibilities and ensure you are taking time for self-care.
  • Partake in regular physical exercise, long walks, meditation and yoga, and invest in your morning and bedtime routine.
  • Spend time journaling and subscribe to a health care model that offers 360-degree attention to spiritual, emotional, mental, physical and vocational aspects of individual wellness.
  • Create work-life balance by ensuring the number of hours spent at work is closely equivalent to the number of hours invested in a conscious, meaningful and relaxing self-care activity.
  • Get outdoors, take a mental health day for self-care, work closely with a mental professional to engage in self-care, and get together with your fellow counselors for a counseling retreat or in-person/virtual groups.
  • Find a buddy who can help identify and alert you when your stress meter has gone up. This tip is important because often as counselors, we carry stressful work situations or unsatisfactory client encounters with us in our minds. We repeatedly replay them in our heads to analyze and dissect how they could have gone better. This stress and feelings of resentment can spill into our personal space and affect the time we spend with family members and friends.
  • Join professional associations such as the American Counseling Association that can help counselors become part of the wider community and stay on track with their healing.

Tips to combat compassion fatigue

Counseling involves welcoming clients from diverse cultural backgrounds and helping them hold their inner peace. As counselors, we show compassion, and in this process sometimes we over-empathize, which can lead to compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue often sneaks up on us, and if we are unaware or not vigilant, it can leave us feeling physically exhausted, numb, sad, stuck and withdrawn. To avoid compassion fatigue, counselors need to adopt some healthy practices such as:

  • Establish healthy habits such as getting adequate sleep, eating nutritious food and engaging in grounding activities (e.g., meditation, yoga).
  • Establish and maintain purposeful connections with friends, family members and fellow therapists. These relationships can serve as a great reminder of your authentic self.
  • Create meaningful boundaries with fellow counselors, clients and family members. This is especially important in the helping professions where everyone expects you to lend them a compassionate ear.
  • Find a way to disconnect from our clients’ stories. Sometimes clients’ stories stay with us even after we leave the session, and we may unconsciously project our own thoughts, feelings or biases onto clients. To avoid this, engage in a short mediation for about 10 minutes before and after each session, which can help counselors disconnect and prepare for the next session.
  • Develop a consistent meditation practice. I am a meditation teacher, and I have received several emails from therapists and healers expressing gratitude for my daily online guided meditation sessions.
  • Work toward becoming more mindful. Mindfulness in daily life keeps the mind alert and focused and ready to absorb more. It also protects the mind from being affected by traumatic stories.
  • Practice self-care. You cannot pour from an empty cup. Some ways we can take care of ourselves include engaging in relaxation techniques, healthy friendships, enjoyable hobbies and healthy stress outlets.
  • Maintain a healthy work-life balance. It is important to establish a manageable work schedule; know what kind of clients trigger you deeply and take precautions beforehand.
  • Engage in personal counseling. Talking to a therapist about your triggers and instances from the past when you have experienced compassion fatigue can help immensely.
  • Establish emotional boundaries. There is a common tendency among mental health professionals to slip into over-involvement and to forget to create emotional boundaries with others. But these boundaries are important because they help us to value our space, which is necessary for our recovery.
  • Commit to staying educated. It is important to learn about compassion fatigue and to stay abreast of its symptoms and remedies.

Self-care as second nature

No one is immune to suffering in this world, not even counselors. In navigating from one client to another — and often helping clients deal with a lot of suffering — we can carry residual energies from previous sessions. Hence, cleansing ourselves becomes crucial so that we are not affected in the long run.

We are often busy as counselors helping others, seemingly leaving us very little time for our own recovery and self-care. But it is equally important for us to indulge in self-inquiry and ask ourselves: “How often am I sitting with my discomfort? If I am not doing this, then why not?” Do we find it challenging to “heal” ourselves or is it that we often get so focused on helping others that we forget to take care of yourselves? Do we tend to put others first (before ourselves)?

After engaging in this self-reflection, counselors may discover that self-care does not come naturally to them. Because they have a natural inclination toward helping others, caring for the self can feel like an additional task. Being fully aware of this attitude may help counselors build a deeper relationship with themselves and release the notion that they cannot seek help themselves. Here are some questions to you become more aware of your self-care practice and areas you need to work on to change how you approach self-care in your life:

  • How often have you found yourself comfortable in your discomfort?
  • While you are trying your best to heal others, who is helping you?
  • Who is listening to you?
  • Is your mental health a priority or has it taken a backseat?
  • Who is devoted to you when you are devoted to everyone else around you?

There is often a gap between how we are visualizing our ideal life in our heads versus how we are living life in reality. The power of self-care is often underestimated, and it is time for us to change this attitude as counselors.

Listening to ourselves

As counselors, we invest a lot of our time, energy and emotions in working with others. Deeply listening to others and helping others untangle their wired thoughts is an art. We bring the best out in others as we remind them of their positivity, strengths and resilience. But amid this process of healing others, we mustn’t forget to listen to our needs as well.

Flight attendants always advise airplane passengers that in case of emergency, each person should put on their own oxygen mask before trying to help others. This approach is equally applicable to us in the helping professions, where the goal is to help those in distress.

Being emotionally attuned and available to ourselves as counselors is of vital importance. We must respect our boundaries, nurture our health first and continuously monitor ourselves for any early signs of stress. Because we are instrumental in healing others, we carry a great responsibility to stay attuned to our authentic selves and prioritize our needs.

After all, if your cup is empty, how can you truly hope to help and support others? Hence, it is crucial to refill your cup as soon as you feel you are verging closer to burnout or compassion fatigue. Don’t wait for your inner batteries to die down completely before taking steps to recharge them.

Counselors can find support from other mental health professionals. In 2018, I built a virtual platform called Soulful Conversations, which allows counselors to have heart-to-heart conversations and helps them to better cope with burnout, compassion fatigue and mental unrest. This provides mental health professionals with a space to share their advice, best practices, life-changing experiences expertise on dealing with burnout and compassion fatigue. These videos are available on my YouTube channel, Soulful Conversations With Madhuri Govindu.

As I said in one of the Soulful Conversation sessions, “If you cannot nourish your soul, you cannot ignite the well-being of others.” Before trying to heal others, we must first ensure that we are healed and nourished within ourselves.

 


Madhuri Govindu is a counseling psychology graduate student at Pennsylvania Western University at Edinboro. She is also a meditation teacher, yoga enthusiast and influencer. Her work was featured in The New Indian Express in 2018 when she began to invite individuals from all walks of life to embrace the present moment through her open social change platform titled Soulful Conversations. Contact her at madhurigovindu23@gmail.com.


Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

4 steps to refresh, recharge and reconnect

By Autumn Gonzalez December 22, 2022

tiles spelling self-care on table with two pink and white flowers

Image by Tiny Tribes from Pixabay

If you are anything like me, you find being a counselor very enjoyable and fulfilling. We regularly make positive impacts on the lives of people we serve, and we’re committed to help them heal and grow.

However, this endeavor can be emotionally demanding and challenging. We hold space for successes, but we also come face to face with various sufferings and human misery. Even an ordinary day can at times be exhausting.

Add in the personal responsibilities of everyday life, living amid a pandemic, daily acts of violence and inflation, and the potential implications can be prevalent and persistent for counselors. These implications include increased depression, anxiety, psychosocial isolation, loneliness, disrupted personal relationships, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, burnout and professional impairment, all of which can impact the quality of services for effective and ethical counseling and overall functioning.

While most of us have substantial knowledge about self-care and convey its importance to clients, there is a disconnect between knowing about and doing self-care. For many counselors, self-care is front and center yet so far away.

Defining self-care

What exactly is self-care? Simply put, self-care is intentional actions and experiences to enhance or maintain physical, emotional, mental and social well-being and balance in life.

Self-care has many benefits. It boosts well-being, builds resilience, increases self-awareness and self-esteem, prevents burnout and compassion fatigue, and helps us perform at our best. It is a form of prevention, an ethical responsibility and an imperative for counselors personally and professionally.

Most important, self-care is about choice and understanding what it means for you. Everyone has a unique definition of self-care. For some, it may be a spa day, a massage or weeks of vacation. For others, it may be curling up with a good book, taking a moment to breathe, establishing boundaries, being intentional or assertive, or holding oneself accountable. Self-care is what maintains and restores your sense of self and what nourishes you.

Making self-care routine

It can be challenging to integrate self-care into a daily routine, which is why I created a four-step guide and a few practical self-care tips and strategies for counselors that can be built into everyday life in a manageable and sustainable way.

Step 1: Complete a self-care assessment

The first step is completing a self-care assessment to help you learn about and become aware of where you are at with your needs. There are various assessments readily available on the internet, in books, etc. A common one is the Self-Care Assessment created by Therapist Aid, which helps people reflect on current self-care practices, explore areas of improvement and identify new practices.

Step 2: Create a self-care plan

The second step is to create a self-care plan. Create an inventory of personalized self-care strategies that cater to the whole self and include physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually nourishing activities. This could be a list of the top five things you can do, or not do. Be specific. Don’t just write down “do a breathing exercise” — describe which exercises you foresee yourself doing and enjoy doing. Focus specifically on those you can do when you wake up or before you go to sleep, when you start and finish your day, and when you are between sessions.

Here are some possible self-care tips and strategies:

  • Set daily intention. Setting a positive daily intention can help you lead a purposeful and meaningful life. At the end of each day, think about how you lived your daily intention and how it impacted your way of being.
  • Live in the moment. Give yourself permission to just be and to be present in the moment. Scheduling short breaks throughout the day, doing one-minute meditations, breathing, noticing your surroundings, practicing gratitude, accepting things as they are, being mindful, taking a break from social media and technology, doing physical and mental grounding exercises, and focusing on one thing at a time can help you be in the moment and reset.
  • Fuel yourself. Truth is, you are what you eat. Eat balanced meals and drink plenty of water.
  • Move and exercise. A body in motion stays in motion. Engage in regular movement and exercise. Stretch to give your muscles a break to relieve tension and anxiety and pay attention to your posture. Take a brief walk between sessions, in the morning or after work.
  • Get enough sleep. Sleep hygiene impacts energy, concentration, learning and memory.
  • Set boundaries. Boundaries promote safety and security of self and others. Create and maintain professional and personal boundaries. At the workplace, this may mean saying “no,” delegating tasks, stopping a session on time, not answering emails from your family, not overloading your caseload with too many clients, asking for help, working within your competence, minimizing and avoiding dual relationships, and refraining from overidentification. At home, it may be taking breaks, being consistent in asserting yourself, not answering emails from work, not doing the “thing” that was planned or adjusting your schedule.
  • Connect with others. Spend time with family, friends or someone who brings you joy. Regularly meet with peers or colleagues for support, engage in clinical or reflective supervision, participate in personal therapy, or attend a mutual support group.
  • Practice self-reflection. Make time for self-reflection to gain an understanding of yourself, your motivations and your behaviors. Increase your self-awareness and examine your self-talk, window of tolerance, inner critic, strengths and weaknesses. This can help you better understand yourself and possibly others, assist in better decision-making, increase self-confidence, reduce assumptions and biases, build better relationships, increase emotional regulation, decrease stress, and reduce transference and countertransference issues. It can also help you pursue your purpose and live authentically. Reflective practices can include clarifying values, journaling, practicing mindful meditation, turning off autopilot, seeking supervision and completing a strengths assessment.
  • Use positive affirmations. Praise yourself for what you do. Positive affirmations promote positive well-being and lower stress. Try writing yourself a Post-it note or setting a daily reminder.
  • Have self-compassion. Honor and respect your feelings when you suffer, fail, feel inadequate or succeed. Allow yourself to cry and express your feelings. This can be one minute to one hour but take the time to release your emotions and all you hold on to.
  • Engage in enjoyable activities. Participate in activities you enjoy, such as group exercise, spending time in nature, listening to music, playing a recreational sport, reading for leisure or another hobby.
  • Practice relaxation. Relaxation is the lowering of tension in the mind and body. Relaxation improves coping abilities; decreases anxiety, depression and insomnia; lowers blood pressure and increases blood flow; decreases heart rate and respiration rate; provides a sense of calmness and confidence; relaxes muscles; promotes healing; and can reduce pain. Types of relaxation techniques include yoga, massage therapy, mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, body scan, visualization/guided imagery, deep breathing and breath focus.
  • Use humor. Laughing feels good, can reduce stress, stimulates circulation, aids in relaxation and sustains resilience. Look up a joke, reframe or find humor in a situation, or watch something funny.
  • Treat yourself. Indulge in the things you enjoy, such as ice cream, a new book, etc.
  • Learn. Try learning something new. This can mean learning a new skill, building your strengths, gathering information or seeking out intellectual challenges personally and professionally.
  • Breathe. Just breathe.
  • Focus. You have the ability to intentionally choose what you focus your energy on.
  • Reduce stress. Aim to reduce stressors in your life.

Step 3: Commit to the plan

Commit yourself to intentionally use your self-care plan. You can share your plan with an accountability partner or someone encouraging. Just as you would ask a client to create a safety plan or relapse prevention plan, it is helpful to do the same for your self-care plan. This can be done in many ways, whether it is using your daily calendar, writing Post-it notes, or writing your plan on an index card to keep in your purse or wallet. Remember to start small and start where you are. Be realistic with your plan and implement activities that work for your life.

Step 4: Check in and monitor the plan

Check in with yourself regularly to review your plan and hold yourself accountable. The Professional Quality of Life (ProQOL) is a useful self-care tool developed by Beth Hudnall Stamm to help you monitor your self-care by seeing how you score on compassion satisfaction, burnout and secondary traumatic stress. Don’t forget to take the time to celebrate your success and evaluate where things did not go as planned.

Moving forward

The most selfless act we as counselors can do is to take care of ourselves actively, regularly and purposefully. Maintaining and enhancing our emotional, mental and physical well-being is a form of prevention as well as an ethical responsibility and a personal and professional imperative. It prevents burnout, assists in staying present with clients and enables us to provide the highest quality of care to clients while maintaining our well-being.

When we take time to care of and invest in ourselves, we are preparing ourselves to take care of others.

 


Autumn Gonzalez (she/her) is a licensed clinical professional counselor in Illinois and Iowa, a national certified clinical mental health counselor, and an advanced alcohol and other drug counselor certified by the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium. She is a licensed mental health clinician and site supervisor for master’s-level practicum and internship counselors-in-training at The Project of the Quad Cities and residential and inpatient counselor at UnityPoint Health Robert Young Center. Contact her at agonzalez@tpqc.org.

This research was inspired by Gonzalez’s participation in the Refresh, Recharge, and Reconnect Retreat for Therapists funded by the Merlin W. Schultz Foundation Grant.


Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Tips to navigate workload and prevent burnout  

Celine Cluff  December 9, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has left few sectors untouched when it comes to burnout. With an ever-increasing need for sector-specific crisis measures to mitigate some of the stressors faced by workers globally, society finds itself in midst of a burnout epidemic. The biggest issue we face collectively is that burning out in one’s professional life also leaves one struggling in one’s personal life. This carry-over effect is what many counselors and psychologists are seeing in their practice today.  

As we prepare to enter another holiday season — a time that can add stress to a routine that is already hectic — people need to check in with themselves and consider how they are feeling during this busy time of the year. This simple step can make all the difference, and it might even improve their relationships with loved ones.  

The need for interpersonal connection 

Virtual therapy and telehealth platforms are continuing to emerge as a by-product of the pandemic. These resources can provide some of the emotional support people need to get through the day. For example, the company Spring Health offers virtual therapy to the employees of organizations that have added the platform to their health benefits package. It is hopeful that these telehealth platforms will also become available and affordable for everyone — regardless of employment status — especially older people and those living in rural areas.  

These virtual counseling platforms, however, do not replace some of the vital interpersonal relationships humans need to thrive and build resilience. This includes their relationship with their counselor. The connections people have with each other are important ingredients in helping them feel there is meaning in life beyond what they achieve as part of a task or job.  

Much like a forest where trees are interconnected with each other via their root systems, people are also connected to their community on a deeper level. This connection, however, can be compromised if other environmental factors have a negative impact on people. Recent research on pandemic-specific stressors has revealed that professionals working in health care might benefit from coping strategies that are geared toward nourishing interpersonal connections.

Although meeting and socializing with others in person used to be a common occurrence, now it is often overshadowed by all the ways in which people connect virtually, from one bandwidth to another.

Preventing work-related burnout 

Dr. Maria Gualano, who was recently listed as one of the top 2% of scientists in the world according to Stanford University, conducted a systemic review in 2021 and found that three factors appear to have played a prevalent role in causing health care professionals to burn out during the COVID-19 pandemic. These factors are emotional exhaustion, high levels of depersonalization and the lack of personal accomplishments.  

Focusing on the prevention of these three factors may help people develop new norms that promote their well-being in midst of a global health crisis.  

Here are six tips on how employees can target and counteract feelings of emotional exhaustion and high stress related to work:  

  • Take breaks throughout the workday. Research from Microsoft’s Human Factors Lab shows that breaks allow the brain to reset, which can help reduce the cumulative buildup of stress. Even taking breaks in small seven-minute increments throughout the workday can make a difference if done regularly. One way to ensure you are taking a break from work is to turn off work notifications in the evenings. But if your job requires you to be on call for an extended period, then you could carve out a few minutes for yourself throughout the day (e.g., taking mental breaks for seven minutes several times a day). Although evidence on shorter workweek benefits is limited, the emerging literature shows that employees report feeling happier at work when working a shorter workweek. In addition, when people feel connected to the work they do, their well-being increases. So weaving more leisure time (even minutes) into one’s workweek can help increase feelings of well-being and lead to better work engagement, which in turn results in better work outcomes. 
  • Develop a point system for unwinding. Typically, I like to count one point for every 10 minutes of doing something that is not work-related (or better yet: look out a window). Find a point system that is suitable for your lifestyle, and then aim to accumulate a certain number of points over the course of a workweek. Achieving your goal for the week helps you feel accomplished, and this can lead to a cumulative effect.  
  • Adopt a growth mindset. In a Tedx talk on the power of belief, growth mindset expert Eduardo Briceno said we can cultivate a growth mindset by accepting that we are not chained to our capabilities. This uplifting and inspirational message is one we must all internalize in times of stress and uncertainty. I invite you to think deeply about what it means to be successful and at what cost. Only through personal reflection can we maximize outcomes at work and in our personal lives. It helps us learn about ourselves and why we do what we do.  
  • Shift the perspective. An inspiring way to ground yourself is to take an imaginary field trip to the moon and look back at Earth. There are no deadlines, no objectives. The beauty of this exercise lies in reflecting on the miracle of life itself, not what is accomplished throughout it. It invites you to take a step back from all the noise you encounter as part of daily life, and instead focus only on what is necessary. If practiced regularly, this activity can work to alleviate some of the chronic stress people associate with work deadlines.  
  • Spend time doing something for yourself regularly. When it comes to meeting work demands, people are quick to prioritize deadlines over themselves, which can lead to people feeling disconnected from their work and associating it with stress. In general, burnout rates increase when people feel they have no control over their workload and stress levels. In a society that celebrates being busy, putting oneself first should be at the top of the to-do list. Self-care is crucial in maintaining a pace that is sustainable and healthy. This rings especially true during the holidays. We often feel pressure to participate in all the festivities, bake sales, cheer, and so on. But sometimes it’s OK to not spread yourself so thin. Choose one contribution and be proud of it — your time is valuable.  
  • Seek out a qualified counselor. This is inarguably the most important tip for those wanting to combat burnout. Seeking out a registered counselor is pivotal in the prevention of a burnout episode because they understand the underlying challenges faced by those who struggle with managing a heavy workload and are trained to provide the tools necessary to prevent escalation. Whether someone works in health care or another industry, identifying the root causes that resulted in a burnout episode with a counselor can be the first step in implementing a solution.  

 


 

Profile picture of Celine Cluff, the authorCeline Cluff is a registered clinical counselor and researcher in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. She holds a master’s degree in psychoanalytic studies from Middlesex University in London and recently completed her doctorate in psychology at Adler University in Chicago. Her private practice focuses on family therapy, couples therapy and parenting challenges. Contact her at celine.cluff@yahoo.com. 


 

Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association. 

Opening keynote underscores a holistic approach to self-care

By Lindsey Phillips April 5, 2021

ACA’s 2021 Virtual Conference Experience started off strong with a keynote panel on self-care.

We all know self-care is important, but it can be difficult to define because there is no “correct” way to engage in self-care.

Gerald Corey, one of the four keynote panelists, stressed the importance of reflecting every day — even if it’s just for a couple of minutes — on how your day is going and what changes you want to make.

“Think of self-care holistically, and not just [as] physical exercise. Think of it in terms of relationships, meaning in life, having fun, recreating our existence, engaging in life rather than pulling back and disengaging,” says Corey, professor emeritus of human services and counseling at California State University at Fullerton.

Michelle Muratori, a senior counselor at the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University, finds when she is tending to her self-care needs, her own internal boundaries are stronger, which allows her to be emotionally present with clients in session and let them have their own pain.

Gerald Corey, Michelle Muratori, Jude T. Austin II and Julius A. Austin, co-authors of the ACA-published book Counselor Self-Care, presented the opening keynote of the American Counseling Association’s 2021 Virtual Conference Experience on April 5. The theme for the first week of the monthlong conference is self-care.

Create a self-care plan that works for you  

Counselors can have insight and awareness, but if they don’t have their own self-care plan — one that’s simple and realistic — then change won’t happen, asserts Corey, an American Counseling Association Fellow. This plan provides counselors with an opportunity to reflect on ways they can change what they’re doing to function better personally and professionally, he notes.

“It does help to have [the self-care plan] in writing and [to] talk to somebody about it and be accountable. Think of a way to get support to carry out your plan when it becomes difficult,” Corey adds. One useful exercise may be to think about what change you want to see six months or a year into the future, he suggests. Maybe you want to make more time for a hobby or write in your journal more often.

Jude T. Austin II, an assistant professor and coordinator of the clinical mental health counseling track in the professional counseling program at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, advises writing this action plan in pencil because obstacles will arise that force you to readjust your plan. He loves to work out in his garage, but when it’s cold outside, he has to find another way.

Counselors can also incorporate their self-care plan into their current routines, notes Julius A. Austin, a clinical therapist and the coordinator for the Office of Substance Abuse and Recovery at Tulane University. For example, they can check in with family or listen to an audiobook during their hour-long commute to work.

Muratori, co-author of Coping Skills for a Stressful World: A Workbook for Counselors and Clients, reminds counselors that they don’t have to do self-care perfectly. Often, doing their best is good enough, she says.

Get to know your stress

Jude Austin shares advice he received from a supervisor: “Make … stress [and] anxiety your best friend. Sit them next to you and get to know them. Understand what stress does to you [and] how it influences you. What are your triggers? How do you deal with it? Who are the people around you that it affects?”

Considering these questions allows people to be intentional about how they approach self-care because they better understand their unique kind of stressors, he explains.

This reflection should also extend to one’s relationship with other people. Carefully consider who you want to be around professionally and personally, advises Jude Austin, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and licensed marriage and family therapist associate in private practice in Temple, Texas. It’s OK to fire a supervisor or not to be friends with every colleague if the relationship isn’t working for you or makes you feel bad.

Finding ways to cope with stress can be challenging. The keynote speakers, co-authors of Counselor Self-Care, share some activities that help them better manage their stress:

  • Find some type of physical activity that you enjoy doing and that fits within your lifestyle and do it relatively consistently, Corey says. And it doesn’t have to be time consuming, he adds. You can take the stairs rather than the elevator, for example.
  • Learn something new. When graduate school became overwhelming, Jude Austin started growing bonsai trees to help him cope with the stress of having things outside his control. He still finds learning something new every year helps him manage his stress and fosters his curiosity.
  • Connect with others. Julius Austin, an LPC and adjunct professor at Southeastern Louisiana University, takes time to check in with his family, friends and colleagues. Even just a five-minute phone call with his family gives him a sense of warmth and calm after a stressful day.
  • Muratori watches late-night comedy as a way to decompress.
  • Enjoy nature. Corey advises counselors to step away from their desks and spend at least 30 minutes outside in nature every day. Jude Austin sometimes finds it challenging to leave his office, so he brought nature inside by adding a few plants to his workspace.
  • Find meaning and purpose in your life. Think about what makes you want to wake up in the morning, Corey says. He notes that spiritual involvement and service to others can often be a source of meaning for many people.
  • Go to counseling. All the speakers stressed the importance of counselors seeking their own counseling throughout their lives.

Revising self-care plans

Each new career stage presents new stressors that require counselors to constantly adjust and revise their self-care plans.

Julius and Jude Austin, co-authors of Surviving and Thriving in Your Counseling Program, are in the early stages of their professional careers, and they’ve noticed new professionals often quickly say “yes” to every professional opportunity because they are building their careers and gaining self-confidence. But this behavior can lead to burnout, so they caution new professionals to be more intentional with the job responsibilities they assume.

Corey suggests counselors say, “Let me think about it,” when approached for a professional opportunity. And then they really have to consider if that opportunity is a good one for them in that moment.

Jude Austin also finds it challenging to balance all of his daily responsibilities between his work and personal life. “Your career and family are sometimes growing in parallel,” he says. And juggling these roles is often when he feels the most out of balance.

Mid-career is often a time when people assume more work-related responsibilities, Muratori says. And they may need someone to hold them accountable and ensure they aren’t taking on too much. She also points out it’s a time when counselors may experience new family stressors such as a child going off to college or caring for older parents.

Corey credits his long, productive counseling career with two things: 1) He took the time to create a self-care plan that worked for him and encompassed all facets of wellness, including physical, emotional, relational and spiritual health. 2) He took the time to reach out and connect with colleagues. “This can be a lonely profession,” he notes. “Don’t wait for somebody else to … reach out. … It’s important for us to reach out to those friends and colleagues and take the initiative.”

Counselors shouldn’t feel guilty for taking time to care for themselves. “Pay attention to yourself; listen to yourself; allow yourself to guide you through this [self-care process],” Jude Austin says. “If something doesn’t feel right, doesn’t feel comfortable, then reevaluate. … Self-care is flexible. It’s not selfish. It’s responsible. So, just be kind to yourself.”

 

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This keynote panel kicked off a month of virtual events, including hundreds of educational sessions and three additional keynotes, that lasts through April 30.

Find out more about the American Counseling Association’s 2021 Virtual Conference Experience at counseling.org/conference/conference-2021

Registration is open until April 30; participants will have access to all conference content until May 31.

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Lindsey Phillips is a contributing writer to Counseling Today and a UX content strategist. Contact her at hello@lindseynphillips.com or through her website at lindseynphillips.com.

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.