Tag Archives: Counselor Wellness

Counselor Wellness

Self-care for the activist counselor

By Shekila Melchior and Dannette Gomez Beane June 4, 2018

An activist is a person who campaigns and takes action for social change. Counselors are often activists for their clients and for their profession by nature of being in a helping field.

The issue of self-care looms for both counselor practitioners and counselor educators as we face difficult client issues, large caseloads and demanding work environments. The need for self-care only intensifies when societal issues grow more divisive and combative, as we have experienced over the past year or more. Contentious social movements and issues such as #BlackLivesMatter and immigration can have an impact on the climate of care we provide as counselors for our clients and for the communities in which we live.

A tale of two doctoral students

Being a doctoral counseling student is stressful. Being a doctoral counseling student whose research is directly affected by the social movements and climate of the nation is even more stressful.

Shekila’s journey

When I (Shekila Melchior) chose my dissertation topic, “The Social Justice Identity Development of School Counselors Who Advocate for Undocumented Students,” in spring 2016, I had no idea what lay ahead. At the time of my data collection, a heated and divisive presidential election was unfolding in which the issue of undocumented immigration had turned into a political platform. The United States was inundated with xenophobic remarks, anti-immigrant rhetoric and the proposition of erecting physical structures to prevent individuals from entering the country.

On Election Day, concern turned to fear for many people who were confronted with the harsh reality of an unstable future — namely, that their ability to continue residing in the United States was in peril. After the election of President Donald Trump, I questioned whether anyone would participate in my research interviews regarding undocumented students. The climate in our country had changed, but my timeline for defending my research had not.

As an advocate, I was flooded with messages about protest marches and prompting me to write to Congress and participate in meetings to educate others. As a friend, I listened to the concerns of those closest to me who were fearful of deportation and of the possible termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, implemented by the Obama administration to provide temporary protections to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. As a researcher, I encountered participants who were concerned for their students and eager for their voices — and the voices of their students — to be heard.

Dannette’s journey

When I (Dannette Gomez Beane) chose my dissertation topic, “Virginia Counselors’ Engagement With Social Issues Advocacy for Black/African American Clients/Students” in spring 2017, I never could have predicted what would occur that fall. During the time that I was engaged in my data collection, the white supremacist rallies that ended in violence and death in Charlottesville, Virginia, transpired. The topic of race relations was suddenly on everyone’s mind, but especially mine as my dissertation clock ticked.

I had difficulty telling people about my research. People didn’t understand why we were always talking about race. People found it even more bizarre that, as a Latina, I had chosen a topic that concerned African Americans. My reasons for picking the topic had everything to do with the revolving door of students in my office who could not attend class, turn in assignments or even talk to their friends because they felt so debilitated from what was going on around them. I just kept thinking, “What can I do to help? What are counselors in my state doing to help these students?”

Responses and critical incidents

We (Shekila and Dannette) processed our own personal reactions to these events. The issues that arose during the writing of our dissertations served as motivation to complete our research. Although both of us feared the worst, we hoped for the best as our research progressed. Our fear was that what was occurring nationally and regionally would silence the participation of counselors, causing them to retreat to neutrality out of a concern of responding in a socially undesirable way. Our hope was that counselors would rise to the occasion and speak on behalf of those marginalized populations that needed advocacy. Ultimately, both of us were successful in our data collection, and the respondents to our studies commented with expressions of concern for themselves and their clients/students.

One counselor who responded to Dannette’s study said, “I work in a rural county in the South and have about 20 percent of my population that is African American. I also work in a system very close to Charlottesville. We always have race issues.”

A participant in Shekila’s study shared the frustrations of their students. The participant recalled a time when one of their students wore a T-shirt that said “Relax Trump, I’m Legal.” Another participant who was a DACA recipient was concerned that he might no longer be able to work with his students if DACA were repealed.

The “critical incident” experienced by the advocate begins a process of cognitive dissonance, a “waking up.” According to Leon Festinger’s theory, when individuals experience cognitive dissonance, it changes the core of what they believe, leading them to wrestle with new information in light of things they have previously understood (for more, see Paul C. Gorski’s article “Cognitive dissonance as a strategy in social justice training” in the Fall 2009 issue of Multicultural Education). Thus, advocates begin to recognize the shift within themselves as it relates to a social issue.

Encountering an undocumented student as a high school counselor served as my (Shekila’s) critical incident. In that moment, I felt helpless and uninformed, but through that critical incident, I began my research, which later propelled me to a place of advocacy.

One of my research participants made a statement about how activist counselors develop: “I think that over time, because of my being sensitive to some of their [undocumented students’] struggles and just seeing the human side to their stories … there’s stuff that you don’t learn being in the counseling program. It’s like baptism by fire with that. It’s not something that I can teach. You can’t teach people to be empathetic like that. You can certainly tell them this is how you go about it, but you either have that or you don’t have that. You may be able to awaken something in someone with it, but if it’s not there, it’s not there.”

Dannette’s research is informed by racial identity development theory, with “encounter” being a stage in which a person is faced with the realization that race matters. Counselors who experience these “critical” or “encounter” moments are undeterred from participating with and advocating for others. On the other hand, counselors who have not experienced such a profound incident may not be as moved to engage in social issues advocacy.

As one of Dannette’s study respondents shared, “During an incident that occurred last year at my school when a black/African American student was suspended, I was told by my admin to stay out of it. I felt strongly that the way it was handled was discrimination, and [I] was very disturbed. I was able to discuss the incident with the parent in private and give [her] tools to help advocate for her son. She was also upset because of the way it was managed. I was not able to get into it too deeply with the parent because I felt my job was in jeopardy. However, I was able to encourage her to take it further and add insight into the best way to do so.”

The adversity we face in our work, school and personal lives for participating in social issues advocacy is heightened when incidents occur that feed the political divisiveness. The emotional toil that advocating takes on the activist counselor can be daunting. The work is ever-changing and never-ending. The activist counselor strives to always be informed and to inform others. The greater the degree of political divisiveness, the more strain it can take on the activist counselor. Compassion fatigue can set in, which brings us to self-care.

Avoid, engage, deflect

How can we seek and find comfort, understanding and care when we make our living and have developed our identities as activist counselors? Speaking as the authors of this article, we rely on peer support, faculty advisers, family members, friends and faith communities. At times, however, these normal sources of support and encouragement do not align with the activist mentality; in fact, they sometimes choose to remain neutral or even work against the advocacy. In such cases, activist counselors are left to do one of the following: avoid, engage or deflect.

Note: We (the authors) avoid going to social media for support because we find that causes another layer of stress that will not be addressed in this article.

Avoidance

Our identity as activist counselors is hard to shut off. Some would argue that it never shuts off. Avoiding times when our “buttons are pushed” is a skill that takes practice. The benefit to avoiding adversarial opinions is that of self-preservation. We sometimes “pick our battles” when engaging in dialogue and try to focus on the outcome of peace if avoidance is the best decision. The risk is that we miss a teachable moment or fail to use our place of privilege to educate others.

Engagement

As activist counselors, we are good at compartmentalizing our needs and views for the well-being of others, but when it comes to standing up for what we believe in outside of the therapeutic relationship, we typically take the opportunity to engage.

We often encourage our clients to engage with conflict because it is a practice that almost always results in growth and stretching. Engaging with conflict is natural for counselors who help others to face their fears, practice change and reframe ideologies. The benefit of engaging with adversarial views is that dialogue can emerge, allowing opportunities to increase understanding of and empathy for the other’s view. The risk of this engagement is that the dialogue might turn into an argument, with one-sided views and the shutting down of a topic or, worse, a relationship. As counselors, we are trained to de-escalate these types of heated situations, finding ways to redirect or, in some instances, deflect.

Deflection

Here it comes. You have no time to avoid or engage. A person in your life just dropped a statement that goes against your activist counselor mindset and identity. You know what this sounds like. It is a statement such as “I don’t see _____. All people are the same in my eyes” or “Those people need to ______.” You are left to react without warning.

One approach, especially when caught off guard, is to deflect. The risk in deflecting is that we may seem like we are not paying attention to what the person is saying because we choose to change the topic. This could cause suspicion or hurt if the person is hoping for our engagement in this topic. The benefit is that we do not engage in what could be a relationship-ending conversation depending on the situation.

Recharging the activist self

Avoidance, engagement and deflection are just three examples of ways to approach our daily walk as activist counselors. Counselors regularly encounter situations that must be navigated carefully, and there is no judgment in using any of these three approaches.

As activist counselors, we are hard-wired to serve. But we cannot continue to serve well unless we are diligent in practicing self-care. In this context, self-care does not mean going to the local spa (although we all need that kind of treatment every once in a while). Self-care means filling our cups back up when we are feeling low. Here are some strategies that we have found helpful in recharging our activist selves.

1) Reflect often: We must ask ourselves, why do we do what we do? Reflection is a key component to self-actualization and bringing meaning to our work. Through reflection, we can be in a constant state of improvement. We become more aware, become more open-minded, more readily recognize our own biases and work toward personal growth and change. Reflection enables counselors to grow in both empathy and connection to others.

2) Remain informed: Activist counselors must stay informed of real stories and real facts so they can remain rooted in the truths of people’s experiences rather than getting caught up in the media spin. Counselors must also stay up-to-date with evolving issues as they become more complex. It is imperative for counselors to see events from all angles and to seek out the voices that have been silenced.

3) Give voice to the voiceless: That brings us to using our power for good. As counselors, we hold a position of authority with the clients and students we serve. In addition, our education provides us with privilege that can be used to give voice to those who have been silenced, including individuals who are struggling to enjoy basic freedoms in this country. Our voices are needed. Our voices should be heard.

As counselors, we are always to remember beneficence — to do good and to promote the well-being of others. This is our strength in the counseling relationship. As activist counselors, we must also recognize when rest is needed and when we need to ask for help. Remember that we advocate together to eradicate the systemic oppression that impacts our clients and our students — and even us — every day.

Together, we are change agents. The foundation of what we do and why we do it can be summed up in a quote from Mohandas Gandhi: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

 

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Shekila Melchior is an assistant professor and program coordinator of school counseling at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Contact her at shekila-melchior@utc.edu.

Dannette Gomez Beane is the director of recruitment and operations of undergraduate admissions at Virginia Tech. She adjunct teaches for the counselor education programs at Virginia Tech and Buena Vista University. Contact her at gomezds@vt.edu.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Counseling Today reviews unsolicited articles written by American Counseling Association members. To access writing guidelines and tips for having an article accepted for publication, go to ct.counseling.org/feedback.

 

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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.

Behind the Book: Counselor Self-Care

By Bethany Bray April 23, 2018

There is no perfect plan when it comes to self-care. The important thing is to have a plan and make self-care a career-long focus. Not only will the methods that counselors find effective vary from practitioner to practitioner, but a self-care routine will also need to evolve to meet changing needs throughout a counselor’s career.

“No one person has the ideal formula for optimal self-care; We are unique individuals with varied life experiences,” write the co-authors of Counselor Self-Care. The book, recently published by the American Counseling Association, compiles the insights and personal self-care journeys of more than 50 counselors from across the profession in various stages of their careers.

Counseling Today sent the co-authors some questions, via email, to learn more. Gerald Corey is an ACA fellow and professor emeritus of human services and counseling at California State University, Fullerton; Michelle Muratori is a senior counselor at the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore; Jude T. Austin II is an assistant professor in the Counseling and Human Services Department at Old Dominion University; and Julius A. Austin is an assistant professor in the Marriage and Family Therapy and Counseling Studies program at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

 

 

Q+A: Counselor Self-Care

Responses co-written by Gerald Corey, Michelle Muratori, Jude T. Austin II and Julius A. Austin

 

Why, in your opinions, is self-care considered an ethical mandate?

Simply put, we can place our clients in danger when we do not take care of ourselves as counselors. It is hard for us to believe that counselors can make sound decisions regarding their clients’ welfare when they are struggling to make sound decisions about their own welfare.

Self-care as an ethical mandate involves taking active steps to acquire and maintain wellness in all aspects of living. The concept of wellness is a lifelong journey that has implications for us both personally and professionally. We sometimes hear that self-love and self-care are signs of selfishness. As co-authors of this book, we believe that it is not a matter of self-care versus caring for others. It is surely possible to be invested in both. We may feel invested in promoting a good life for others and be instrumental in improving conditions in our communities. But to be genuinely involved in social action and bettering society, we need to begin with ourselves. Taking time to reflect on the quality of our lives is a good beginning for making changes in our behavior that will lead to increased wellness.

If we neglect caring for ourselves on a regular basis, our professional work suffers, so self-care is a basic tenet of ethical practice. If we are drained and depleted, we will not have much to give to those who need our time and presence. The prevention of burnout and the commitment to monitoring ourselves is a cardinal ethical principle. The 2014 ACA Code of Ethics includes the statement that “counselors engage in self-care activities to maintain and promote their own emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing to best meet their professional responsibilities” (Introduction to Section C, Professional Responsibilities). Meeting this ethical standard is not a final event, but instead it is a call for counselors to reflect daily on what they are doing and the degree to which their behavior is working. Self-care can be thought of as a set of practices that prevent emotional depletion and burnout.

Books and chapters, as well as articles in the professional journals are being written on counselors focusing on prevention of burnout, as well as learning to manage personal and professional stress. One example of this is Counseling Today’s recent article “The Battle Against Burnout” (the cover story of the April issue).

 

In general, do you feel that new counselors emerge from graduate and training programs with an adequate understanding and focus on self-care?

We have not conducted any surveys on self-care in graduate programs, so we cannot answer this question with supporting empirical evidence. It is our assumption that counselor preparation programs do their best to give this topic some degree of attention. In fact, some programs may do a fine job of educating their trainees about the hazards of burnout and the necessity for self-care. However, understanding the concepts intellectually and experiencing the demands of the profession firsthand are two different things.

Each of us has heard from trainees during their practicums and internships that they are surprised by the intensity of the work and the stress that it produces. Too often students graduate and enter the early phase of their career with idealism and optimism, only to encounter barriers to achieving their professional goals and maintaining wellness. The amount of paperwork, responsibility, emotional energy, and strain on personal relationships are just a few things our students said they wish they would have known about before graduation. At times, their optimism wanes and their hopes to see changes are dashed, which leads to disillusionment, exhaustion, and early stages of burnout.

While we cannot speak with authority about programs in general, we can speak about what we do to encourage our students to develop self-care practices that will bode them well in graduate school and strategies that can enable them to prevent burnout. As co-authors of this book, the four of us take the ethical imperative of self-care very seriously and do our best to incorporate self-care activities and practices in the courses we teach and in our role as mentors with the many students with whom we work.

We think it is of paramount importance that faculty model attitudes and practices of self-care. Our students will be more impressed by who we are and how we interact with them than by our lectures on self-care. In our respective programs, many of our colleagues introduce a variety of self-care activities in their classes, including mindfulness exercises. Some of us encourage students to develop a self-care action plan, and to think of ways to make learning a personal journey rather than a strictly academic pursuit.

 

What resources would you suggest for a “veteran” counselor who has been working in the field for a while and is looking for ways to boost or update/refresh their self-care routine?

To update/refresh their self-care routine, experienced counselors need to endorse the value of lifelong learning, realizing that their education and development do not stop at graduation. One of the best ways to revitalize their self-care routine is to find new ways to connect to valued colleagues who share their passion for this work. Colleagues can serve as mentors long after we are into the professional field. Personally, we find attending professional conferences, workshops, learning institutes and other forms of continuing education to be valuable resources and networking opportunities. The four of us attend the ACA conference every year in addition to other professional meetings. We always come away feeling inspired, with new ways of thinking about topics that matter to us. We typically present education sessions and participate in learning institutes, and this affords us opportunities to work with students and counselors from various parts of the country. This is energizing for all of us! We also try to carve out time to enjoy lunch or dinner with colleagues, former students and friends in the area. We also intentionally make time to rest, sightsee and enjoy what the conference’s host city has to offer. These activities recharge our batteries and equip us with new tools to bring back to our students, clients and supervisees.

Besides keeping professionally updated, we are convinced that counselors who have worked in the field for a while can bring more vitality to their work if they are attending to their personal lives. Thus, engaging in various forms of recreation and hobbies are ways to refresh our self-care routine. Participating in travel can be taxing, but it can also broaden our perspectives and help to keep us interested and interesting. Another strategy is to try something new that has nothing to do with professional development. We might try a new sport, plant a garden, play a new video game, read a book purely for pleasure, learn a musical instrument or implement a new exercise routine. We must find ways to boost our routine when it starts to feel stale. What is critical is that each of us must find our own path for retaining our vitality, both personally and professionally.

 

Self-care that a counselor finds helpful will differ and evolve throughout their career. What would you want counselors to know about the need to change and adapt their self-care routine as they grow as a professional?

We would want counselors to know that self-care is a delicate process that is unique to each counselor. What works from some may not work for others. Moreover, a self-care plan that meets one’s needs at a certain point in one’s career may no longer serve us at a later time. There are likely to be many twists and turns in the evolution of our career; thus, we may need to be prepared to adapt our self-care practices accordingly. Being patient with this process and with ourselves as we navigate new personal and professional experiences is of the utmost importance.

As alluded to, even if we have been successful in establishing self-care practices as we begin our career, we are likely to find that we need to make changes as we take on new responsibilities. These stages include (1) graduate school; (2) early career; (3) mid-career; and (4) late career. Since each of the co-authors is presently in a different stage of professional development, we each describe challenges we face and how we do our best to thrive personally and professionally. In our book, Counselor-Self Care, we devote a chapter to self-care across the seasons of our career, in which we address this question in some depth.

Self-care involves unique challenges at each developmental stage in a career. For example, how we meet these tasks during graduate school has implications for how well we will be able to address them throughout our career. Transitions in life can be stressful, even when they bring about positive change. One such transition is leaving the safety net of a graduate program and launching a career as a new professional. Entering this next season of their life and career as early professionals can indeed be very exciting. However, it is a period when many changes occur and major life decisions are made.

As clinicians and counselor educators gain more experience in their professional roles and enter into the mid-career phase, it is likely that they will be expected to take on greater professional responsibilities, which are inherently stressful. For instance, clinicians may be promoted to positions that require them to supervise others and manage budgets while those pursuing positions in higher education may have to weather the challenges associated with going up for tenure. At the same time, they may be experiencing developmental stressors in their personal lives such as dealing with aging parents or children leaving the nest to go away to college or to enter the workforce. For mid-career mental health practitioners, the challenge involves becoming aware of developmental stressors, finding ways to maintain competence and assuming an active role in engaging in lifelong learning. This is a time for practitioners to continue to become aware of common risks for burnout and to monitor how well they are managing stress, especially with the increasing demands associated with a mid-career. It is important to adopt an active role in collaborating with colleagues and to avoid professional isolation and burnout.

The late-career professionals often are faced with adapting their lifestyle and self-care routines. Retirement is a part of this phase of one’s career. Retirement is an opportunity to redesign our life and to tap unused potentials; it is not an end to all work. There are many choices open to us as we embark on the path toward retirement. We can get involved with the projects we might have put aside due to the demands of our job. We can discover that retirement is not an end, but rather a new beginning. Retirement is a major transition in life that brings a variety of choices and transitions. A major developmental task we face as we retire is deciding which path we will take to continue to find meaning in life.

 

What prompted you to collaborate and create the book? Why do you feel it’s a relevant/needed topic to cover now?

A combination of factors prompted us to collaborate and create this book. Primarily, our relationships with one another as a collaborative team on various other projects sparked our excitement to work together again. While attending professional conferences, we had observed a large number of attendees at self-care presentations and had noted that self-care for mental health professionals was being given more attention in the literature. In addition, we noticed a number of our own students, supervisees and colleagues asking for more information about self-care and talking about how spread thin they were with all of their demands. When we initially brainstormed ideas, we realized that the book would have more depth if we brought our combined life experiences and perspectives to the project.

We aimed to write a book that presented diverse perspectives on self-care with the objective of encouraging counselors and counselor trainees to evaluate their present level of self-care and consider specific changes they want to make in attending to all aspects of wellness in their personal life. The book gives readers a chance to look into the lives of many different helping professionals as they wrestle with taking care of themselves.

The four of us are engaged in professional work in different settings and are at different stages in our careers. Two of us are early-career professionals, one of us is a mid-career person, and one of us is a person in his late career. Individually and collectively our aim was to offer a balance of challenge and support as our readers consider ways to enhance their personal and professional life through self-care.

Early on we decided to invite guest contributors to share their experiences in meeting the ethical mandate of self-care. We exchanged ideas on how we could reach our audience with the message “Counselor, take care of thyself!” Our many discussions led to our decision to include a wide range of students, counselor practitioners, and counselor educators to share their self-care stories. We were impressed with their levels of honesty and courage in disclosing their struggles and sharing the action plans they devised to treat themselves with increased kindness and compassion. Despite the obstacles our guest contributors encountered, their stories are filled with their hopes and visions for the future. Many themes were explored, including not demanding perfection in taking care of themselves, continuing to strive to do better despite occasional setbacks, asking for the help they needed, recognizing that consistency in self-care practice is essential to competently serving others and that self-care is a process.

 

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

Our hope is that readers will be motivated to engage in honest self-reflection of where they are now and where they would like to be in their self-care program. After reading the narratives of 52 guest contributors about their experiences with self-care, along with our thoughts and experiences related to this topic in each chapter, readers can continue to implement a personal action plan that will lead to wellness in all aspects of their lives.

There is no perfect plan that will motivate us to achieve our self-care goals, yet if we have no plan it will be difficult for us to survive the demands of our professional work, let alone thrive in our lives and careers. It is our hope that students and counselors who complete this book will make a comprehensive assessment of their current behavior and determine what changes they want to make to better meet their needs — physically, emotionally, mentally, socially and spiritually.

As counselors, we have the responsibility to do whatever it takes to be as present and effective with our first client of the day through to our last. We need to remind ourselves that self-care is not a project that is completed once and for all, but rather it is a process of taking care of ourselves. We need to put ourselves in our schedule so that we will have the stamina to fulfill the many demands of our professional work. It is our expectation that readers will see that burnout and impairment are not inevitable. If we make self-care a priority, not only can we stave off burnout, but we can engage in daily practices leading to wellness.

 

 

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Counselor Self-Care is available both in print and as an e-book from the American Counseling Association bookstore at counseling.org/publications/bookstore or by calling 800-347-6647 x222

 

Attending the ACA 2018 Conference & Expo in Atlanta this month? Check out these events with the authors of Counselor Self-Care:

  • Wednesday, April 25, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.: Learning Institute “Taking Care of Yourself: A Luxury or an Ethical Mandate?”
  • Friday, April 27, 11 a.m. to noon: Counselor Self-Care author content session
  • Thursday, April 26 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. and Friday, April 27 from noon to 1 p.m.: Counselor Self-Care author book signings

See counseling.org/conference for more details

 

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Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook at facebook.com/CounselingToday.

 

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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.

 

 

 

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The battle against burnout

By Bethany Bray March 28, 2018

Fill in the blank: The way to avoid burnout is __________ .
Self-care? Professional fulfillment? Spirituality? All of the above? The answer to this question will be different for each person — and most likely involve more than one idea. The question, however, needs to be continually on the minds of counselors, both for their own good and for the good of their clients.

Counselors, as helping professionals who listen to and support clients through some heavy and distressing issues, often on a daily basis, are at high risk for professional burnout. Researchers focusing on practitioner burnout for a 2012 Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research journal article found that as many as 2 out of every 3 mental health workers “may be experiencing high levels of burnout.”

But helping professionals aren’t the only ones who can be pushed to the limit. Clients can burn out as well, whether they’re parents struggling to balance work and family life or individuals who feel stretched to the max by the demands of their job and other aspects of life.

In other words, “anybody and everybody” is at risk of burnout at different points in their lives and careers, says Kayla Pedigo, a licensed clinical professional counselor and certified sex offender treatment provider in Idaho. Even so, counselors often internalize the harmful negative associations that society at large holds about seeking help.

“It’s very difficult to say, ‘I need some time for myself.’ That can feel selfish for a helper. It takes a lot of strength to know what you need and how to ask for it,” says Pedigo, a member of the American Counseling Association.

Counselors can fall into the trap of feeling that they “should have it all figured out,” says Allison Crowe, an ACA member and a licensed professional counselor (LPC) in North Carolina. “It’s a myth that we don’t need our own support at different times. Going through a master’s program in mental health does not negate the need for personal mental health help down the road.”

“Stress is not a diagnosable mental health condition, but it will turn into one if we don’t work on it,” Crowe adds. “Coping is an important thing to think about, and coping in ways that work for you. … Working long hours, vicarious trauma, empathy fatigue: These are all things that are part of a counselor’s job. All of that will build and build and build to levels of burnout. We need to build in a wellness plan and coping strategies.”

Fanning the flames

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines burnout as “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation, usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.” Many things can cause burnout, but being isolated or feeling unsupported at home or at work can be major contributors, as can the repetition of facing the same challenges or doing similar tasks over and over.

Every job situation will come with varying degrees of stress and frustration that ebb and flow. Burnout, however, is more than that. It is an all-encompassing feeling that you are being pulled in every direction at once and that no matter what you do, you are unable to make progress or move forward. If chronic burnout is left unmanaged, it can lead to issues with physical and mental health.

The onset of burnout feels different for each individual. In both clients and practitioners, it can take a healthy dose of self-awareness to recognize the red flags that indicate they are experiencing something more than day-to-day stress.

Pedigo, the clinical director at Aspire Human Services, a program for clients with intellectual disabilities in southeastern Idaho, says that one of her first signs of burnout is finding that she doesn’t want to stay for the full length of staff meetings. It indicates that she is becoming disengaged and having trouble being present, she says.

Another signal is when she finds herself turning down invitations from colleagues to go out to lunch. She knows it would be good for her to step out and take time away from the office, “but it feels like I can’t even take a minute to do that. … I feel like I have a million other things to do,” Pedigo observes. “I’m always thinking of what’s next, what’s next, what’s next. That’s when I know I need to take time to slow down, take a break and return refreshed.”

Another indicator of burnout in clients and counselors can include feeling a perpetual sense of self-disappointment — that no matter what you do, you are always falling short, says Erin M. West, an LPC and licensed school counselor. “It’s that sense of being overwhelmed — that you have too much on your plate and not enough time to feel like you’re doing a good job in all of your roles or [to take] a sense of pride in the work you’re doing. It can be demoralizing and defeating,” says West, a lecturer in the school counseling and clinical mental health counseling programs at the University of Texas at Tyler.

In general, burnout is a constant feeling of being at the end of your rope, she says. It can manifest in physical symptoms such as feeling fatigued or exhausted, crying easily, having trouble sleeping and becoming emotional over things that wouldn’t normally affect you.

Similarly, people experiencing burnout who are normally easygoing might find themselves feeling more angry or sad than usual and struggling to make decisions out of a fear of making the wrong choice, Pedigo says. People wrestling with burnout may also become more susceptible to getting sick and take longer to recover when they come down with something.

Another potential indicator of burnout is inflexibility of thought, Pedigo adds. In clients, this may manifest as resistance to ideas that a counselor suggests in session. For practitioners, it might show up as a reluctance to refer or to seek help with a challenging client and resistance to feedback, Pedigo says. This can shut down the creative process, “and new, fresh thought just doesn’t happen as easily,” she adds.

Pedigo regularly checks her reactions to the feedback she receives from colleagues. If she finds herself taking the feedback personally or disagreeing reflexively, it can be a sign that she is feeling overwhelmed and “focused on me more than the greater issue,” she says.

Another red flag for practitioners is disengaging in session with clients, West says. “It’s that feeling of sitting with a client and having them talk to you, and in your mind, you’re thinking, ‘I don’t know what this person just said.’ You realize after a period of time that you’ve been thinking about something else and you’ve missed what the client has said. Or it may be noticing that things your client is doing or saying are irritating you more than usual. You might notice that you’re putting a lot of blame on clients for not making progress instead of asking ‘What is my role? How can I help?’” explains West, who co-authored a 2016 Journal of Counseling & Development article on stress and burnout in counselor educators.

When counselors realize that they’re not being fully present in a client session, it is “just a horrible feeling. … The whole reason for getting into counseling is to help others with the weight they’re carrying. It can feel really defeating if you’re not able to do that,” West says.

 

Playing with fire

Counselors who are detaching from their work and not taking steps to address burnout (or missing its indicators) are entering a danger zone rife with ethical pitfalls, says Monica Band, a certified rehabilitation counselor with a private practice in Alexandria, Virginia, who is doing clinical supervision toward an LPC. Exhaustion can lead to practitioner indifference or a cynical attitude, says Band, an ACA member and an assistant professor in the clinical mental health counseling program at Marymount University in Virginia. As a result, practitioner-client boundary issues can become blurred, and the counselor’s ability to make competent decisions or to connect and build rapport with the client can all become impaired.

Band wrote her doctoral dissertation on predictors of burnout in first responders and law enforcement chaplains. She will co-present an education session on that topic at the ACA 2018 Conference & Expo in Atlanta later this month with Lisa Jackson-Cherry, a professor and counseling department chair at Marymount and coordinator of the university’s pastoral clinical mental health counseling program.

“[Burnout] can be a fog over our lens because we’re not taking care of ourselves. It hits at a cognitive level, where we’re not able to make culturally competent, ethical decisions [as counselors]. We might not even be in the right headspace to choose which intervention will help our client,” says Band, president-elect of the Virginia Counselors Association. “Unfortunately, burnout gets so bad that we internalize it. Our boundaries get blurred, and we can turn to advice giving instead of giving competent care. It can turn into countertransference issues, which can create an unsafe environment for our clients.”

The prevention of burnout — and the commitment to seek help if it occurs — is both a best practice and an ethical mandate for professional counselors. The introduction to Section C (Professional Responsibility) of the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics includes a statement that “counselors engage in self-care activities to maintain and promote their own emotional, physical, mental and spiritual well-being to best meet their professional responsibilities.” Standard C.2.g. instructs counselors to continually monitor themselves for professional impairment and to seek assistance if they recognize that they are impaired.

Rising from the ashes

A good first step for counselors who realize that they’re in the throes of burnout is to acknowledge it and to talk about it with a trusted colleague, such as a supervisor, Pedigo says. She acknowledges that being vulnerable and sharing such a difficult issue is extremely hard, but she believes that putting the problem into words can be helpful. In part, that’s because counselors struggling with burnout will discover that many of their colleagues have been through the same issue at some point.

When a counselor is burned out, “it feels pretty crummy to be there, but there is power [in admitting] it,” Pedigo says. “For me, it minimizes the isolation [of burnout] to bring in more people who will give good advice and love me anyway.”

Likewise, counselors can begin to address burnout in clients by normalizing their experience. Counselors can offer a listening ear, assure clients that burnout is a common issue that many people go through and let them know that they can take steps to manage it, Pedigo says.

“Sometimes, what [clients] need the most is one person in their life with whom they can share that they’re feeling this way,” she says. “For example, as a parent, it’s difficult to admit that you’re struggling and that it’s hard. You love your kids, but you are at the end of your rope. Be the person [clients] can share that with.”

In addition to engaging in therapeutic work with clients, Pedigo suggests that counselors connect them to resources outside of the counseling office that they can trust. This might include support groups and social or nonprofit organizations that focus on areas with which a client is struggling, such as career development or family and parenting issues.

Counselors can also assist clients struggling with burnout to connect the dots between their symptoms and the root of the problem, Band notes. This often involves helping them recognize that stress and burnout at work can spill over into their home life and relationships — and vice versa.

“Show them that these things are not in separate categories. We know that as counselors, but our clients might not know that,” Band says. “Connect the physical exhaustion they are feeling with the relational pieces to create congruence. While they might feel helpless and feel like they can’t get anything done, it’s not them or something they’re doing. It’s broader and feeding into other things. It’s not their fault. It’s all the dimensions that are weighing and feeding off of each other to make them feel that way.”

One possible antidote to burnout, both in counselors and clients, is change, says Crowe, an associate professor in the counselor education program at East Carolina University and president of the North Carolina Counseling Association. That often means getting creative to keep things fresh and changing up routines.

As a counselor educator, Crowe tries to rotate the classes she teaches so that she isn’t repeatedly covering the same material and subject matter. Other ideas she suggests to counselor educators to add variety include picking up a different project that doesn’t involve teaching and looking for short-term studies or teaching opportunities abroad. For practitioners, change might involve developing a new specialty, starting a new therapy group or trying something new such as consulting work, Crowe suggests.

Pedigo found herself confronting burnout when her caseload consisted entirely of individual clients. She worked with colleagues to switch and share tasks, and now she leads team meetings, co-facilitates a group and provides supervision, in addition to still seeing individual clients.

With clients, Pedigo suggests that counselors switch up the tools they use in session (she is a fan of using humor, when appropriate) or simply offer a change of scenery. For instance, meet in a different office or room, or take the session outside.

“Be a little more active in session, try a different intervention or even just change where you sit in the room,” Pedigo says. “Try and be more flexible — that’s the goal.”

Fire prevention

When it comes to avoiding burnout, self-care is the first thought that pops into many counselors’ minds. Indeed, unplugging from social media, engaging in creative hobbies, exercising, meditating, participating in spiritual activities, getting together with others socially and carving out some alone time are all helpful action steps to take. However, the avoidance of burnout often requires a comprehensive approach that touches on both individual and organizational levels. This can involve everything from counselors initiating staff retreats or mentorship programs at their practices to downloading mindfulness apps for their smartphones and stocking their offices with their favorite CDs, tea selections and an aromatherapy diffuser. Most important, however, is for counselors to engage in anti-burnout measures before they start feeling overwhelmed or chronically stressed.

Burnout can affect both individuals and entire counseling programs, Pedigo says. She recently collaborated with colleagues to address this issue at her program by organizing staff training to identify and prevent professional burnout. The initiative assisted in improving the culture at the practice for both counselors and administrative staff, she says. Pedigo will touch on this experience in an education session titled “Burnout: Working With Challenging Clients” at this month’s ACA Conference & Expo in Atlanta. She will be co-presenting with Jason Byrd and James Osborne, her colleagues from Aspire Human Services.

Part of the practice’s focus on burnout is to reinforce the idea that prevention is an ongoing and continuous process, not just something that happens during vacations and on weekends, Pedigo says. “We try to focus on self-care every day so that it’s a part of our routine in our personal lives and here at our office,” she explains. “It’s much healthier to just enjoy your day with built-in things that are going to keep you well than to hold everything in for a ‘miracle trip’ or an event in the distance to help keep you well. When we’ve seen others do that — and have experienced that ourselves — we’ve noticed that it isn’t as effective and doesn’t promote a healthy lifestyle. It’s just a fix until your next fix.”

Comprehensive burnout prevention needs to come from the top down at counseling practices and school and college programs, agrees Crowe. Counselors who are supervisors, managers or heads of programs can promote healthy behaviors to break the cycle of burnout.

“Have your employees leave or hit the gym during their lunch hour and take their vacation days. Make sure they leave by 5 p.m. and don’t eat lunch at their desks,” Crowe says. “Have workshops that talk about stress, balance and other issues. You can do as much as you can individually [to avoid burnout], but if a system is not wellness-oriented, then it will be a bad cycle. We have to think systemically about how to do that.”

“We have to be advocates to move toward that system-level change. We have to talk about it when things aren’t doable,” she continues. “Think critically about whether the setting you’re in is promoting healthy behaviors. If not, advocate for yourself about making changes. [For school counselors,] speak to your principal to have a training or a wellness-related professional development, or to change a policy or expectation in your workplace.”

Crowe previously worked at a practice with numerous practitioners, including LPCs, psychologists and marriage and family therapists. The program’s weekly staff meetings offered invaluable opportunities to debrief with colleagues and destress, she says. Staff members would break into small groups to go over case studies and talk through the challenges they were facing.

“There were times when the clinician might break into tears when presenting a particularly sad or difficult case. Talking it through and sharing it with other practitioners was helpful,” Crowe says. “It was so wonderful [to] get feedback and support from colleagues. That three-hour meeting was our time to come together.”

West adds that supervisors working with new counselors in practicum should make sure to discuss the risks of burnout early and often. As a counselor educator, West suggests to her students that they begin a self-care routine as they start their master’s program, before things get too stressful. This is especially needed for those who have things going on outside of school, such as managing a family, navigating life transitions or being involved in other commitments, she says.

“There is a fear, particularly among young practitioners, that if they speak out, it means they’re not a good counselor or will get fired. That’s a real shame because problems develop when we stop creating the space to be able to talk about them,” West says. “I try to always ask supervisees, ‘How is your work with this client impacting you personally?’ Create an environment where they aren’t afraid to say how things are affecting them. [Experiencing stress and burnout] doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or a bad counselor. It happens to all of us, so let’s talk about it and how to handle it.”

Learning to rely on a support system of trusted people, both professionally and personally, can also help clients who are at risk of burnout, West notes. Counselors might suggest that clients take breaks during the workday to visit with colleagues who are supportive and with whom they can chat, briefly, about nonwork topics. Outside of work, clients could be encouraged to identify friends and family members who have been through similar experiences. Counselors can also suggest that clients create their support systems not based solely on who they think should be included (for example, family members), but based on “those who are genuinely a support and beneficial to your life,” West says.

Crowe says she sometimes gets the support she needs by meeting with friends who do not work in a similar profession to hers. That way, there is less temptation to “talk shop,” she says.

Counselors also shouldn’t hesitate to engage in personal counseling themselves, Crowe urges, both preventively and when they are feeling overwhelmed. “Your willingness to get support will contribute to your longevity on the job and to being able to cope with the demands of being a counselor in today’s world,” she says.

“We are supposed to be the strong ones, psychologically,” she adds. “We are supposed to be in touch with ourselves and are taught in our [master’s] programs that you’ve got to be OK with yourself before you help someone else. But the reality is, life happens. If you’re going to be a counselor for 30 years, you need to feel very comfortable in getting support when life happens.”

Fireproofing

As important as creativity, getting outdoors, spending time with loved ones and other go-to self-care methods may be, it is the intentionality behind them that is key, West says.

“It sounds small, but it’s the idea that you’re taking time away from your desk to do something that you find enjoyable,” West says. “Be intentional: I am actively making a choice, in this moment, to do something that is enjoyable to me, even if it’s something as simple as lighting a candle.”

In a similar vein, Pedigo finds it helpful to remind herself to focus on the aspects of her work that are particularly meaningful to her, such as the adventure-based counseling that her agency provides. She makes it a priority to go on at least one adventure-based outing with clients each month, even though her position does not require it.

Make time for “whatever grounds you,” Band urges.

When discussing burnout with clients, counselors shouldn’t neglect the topic of spirituality, Band says. Research shows that spirituality can buffer against stress, and focusing on the greater sense of purpose that spirituality can offer may be comforting for many clients.

“The conversation is worth having when you’re talking about burnout,” Band says. “Spirituality can really impact the well-being of your clients, giving them a greater sense of purpose and life satisfaction. Having a spiritual attitude, and the idea that there’s a connectedness to life, and a search for the sacred and belonging — that can help build resilience and boost posttraumatic growth. The idea of being able to make meaning out of something bigger can help people persevere through difficult moments in life.”

However, Band cautions, counselors shouldn’t bring up spirituality with clients out of the blue. Those discussions should be reserved for clients who have mentioned their own spirituality in previous sessions or on an intake form.

With clients who value spirituality, Band suggests asking them to talk about how it has helped them through challenging situations in the past. Counselors should discuss spirituality in whatever terms the client uses, Band says. For example, if they call it a relationship with God, ask them how that relationship has changed as they became stressed and overwhelmed: How is it now, and how would they like it to be?

“[Spirituality’s] continuous search for meaning and purpose in a client’s life, and an appreciation of the depth of it, that will get to the very crux of where your clients are in seeking meaning and purpose, which directly relates to burnout,” Band says. “If we’re able to understand their spirituality and check in on it, we’re able to directly connect to their burnout experience.”

Burning bright

Avoiding burnout can be a career-long challenge and a constantly moving target for many counselors. The coping mechanisms and self-care practices that counselors find helpful are likely to vary at different phases of their career.

“It will take time to figure out what works for you, and it will change over time,” West says. “Be reflective, reevaluate and be willing to change.”

The first things that seem to slip when people feel overwhelmed are the very things that could be most helpful, such as taking time to exercise or to cook a healthy meal for dinner, Crowe notes. “What matters is getting back on the horse and realizing when you’ve let stuff go,” she says. “Tell yourself that it’s OK to leave at 5 p.m. or to take a lunch break.”

However, maintaining a perfect work-life balance is a misconception and an unrealistic expectation, West says. She often tells her counseling students that finding balance is a lifelong pursuit and, indeed, “something that I am continually working on as well.”

“Life is stressful,” West says. “No matter how much we try to remove ourselves from stressful environments, the truth of the matter is that stressful things will always happen in life.” At the same time, cultivating a healthy support system and maintaining good patterns of self-care can protect us from becoming overwhelmed to the point of burnout when those stresses do occur.

The key is making burnout prevention a priority, West says. As the adage goes: You can’t pour from an empty cup.

“So much of it comes down to choice. Setting an intention and telling yourself that you want to take active steps [to avoid burnout] doesn’t mean you’re a selfish person. It means you’re not compromising yourself and you care about your own quality of life,” West says. “Just because I decide to take time for myself and that I matter, that doesn’t mean I’m a bad counselor. In fact, it means that you’re taking steps to be the best you can be. You have to be the focus sometimes, and that doesn’t mean you’re a selfish person.”

 

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Related resources

Counseling Today and CT Online (ct.counseling.org)

Books (counseling.org/publications/bookstore)

  • Counselor Self-Care by Gerald Corey, Michelle Muratori, Jude T. Austin II & Julius A. Austin (newly released by ACA)

ACA Conference & Expo

  • Numerous sessions will be presented on burnout, self-care and other professional issues at the ACA 2018 Conference & Expo, being held this month (April 26-29) in Atlanta. Find out more and search for sessions via topic at counseling.org/conference/atlanta-2018.

 

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Kids can burn out too

When counselors think of the populations most susceptible to burnout, law enforcement personnel and first responders, helping professionals, single parents, and adults living with mental illness or in poverty might come to mind. But children can burn out just as easily as adults, says Erin M. West, a licensed professional counselor and licensed school counselor who teaches in the school counseling and clinical mental health counseling programs at the University of Texas at Tyler.

In today’s modern age, children are often overscheduled, being involved in everything from extracurricular sports and after-school activities to pre-college prep work. This pace can lead to burnout — the symptoms of which adults may misinterpret as behavioral problems.

“Kids just need time to play and engage in unstructured activities and even sit in boredom,” West says. “A lot of times, when kids start to get overscheduled, you can start to see behavioral issues because they don’t have time to play and relax. Instead of viewing it as burnout, it’s often viewed as disruptive behavior.”

Often, children are given little control over their schedules. Counselors can help remedy the situation by educating parents that play is, in fact, a way for children to learn, West says. Parents are typically just trying to do what they feel is best for their children and may not realize that packing their schedules full of activities can have unanticipated consequences.

When families’ schedules are lightened, it can often lessen parents’ feelings of burnout as well, West notes. Counselors “can help change the perception that involving your kids in a gazillion activities doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing more for their mental, physical and intellectual growth than [if they did] one activity per week,” she says.

 

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Bethany Bray is a staff writer and social media coordinator for Counseling Today. Contact her
at bbray@counseling.org.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

 

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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.

Nonprofit News: Burnout prevention for nonprofits

By “Doc Warren” Corson III December 13, 2017

Even the most compassionate, empathic and dedicated clinician has to work to prevent burnout and compassion fatigue. Where you work can often play a big role in the making or prevention of compassion fatigue and burnout. High-stress, high-volume work with little rest or downtime can be a major contributing factor to these issues.

As a nonprofit counseling professional, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of burnout in yourself and your staff members in order to prevent it. Taking small steps now can prevent or reduce the likelihood of losing some key members of your team. It is well worth the effort in the long run.

What follows are some warning signs of compassion fatigue:

  • Excessive blaming
  • Bottled-up emotions
  • Isolating from others
  • Substance abuse
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Poor self-care
  • Legal problems
  • Apathy
  • Mental and physical fatigue
  • Being preoccupied
  • Being in denial about problems
  • Difficulty concentrating

If left unchecked, compassion fatigue can lead to full-scale burnout. Burnout is the physical and emotional exhaustion that caregivers can experience with increased workloads and stress levels. In extreme cases, burnout can lead to serious physical and mental illness. Thankfully, the signs are easily recognizable, preventable and treatable.

Signs of burnout:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Quick to get angry or suspicious
  • Susceptibility to illness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger

There are four main stages of burnout.

Enthusiasm: Start work full of energy and with dreams of giant positive outcomes that may not be realistic.

Stagnation: Start feeling that your work is not matching your initial ideals, is always the same or is making little impact.

Frustration: Your anger and resentment over the state of your work grows. You feel you are wasting your time or accomplishing little to nothing.

Apathy: You no longer care. You are “punching the clock,” counting down to retirement, exploring options in other programs or changing careers.

Compassion fatigue and burnout can be quite difficult, especially for those in the helping professions. Many helping professionals report some level of compassion fatigue and burnout. Here are a few ways that caregivers can protect themselves.

  • Get educated on signs and symptoms
  • Practice self-care
  • Set emotional boundaries
  • Engage in outside hobbies
  • Cultivate healthy friendships outside of work
  • Keep a journal
  • Boost your resiliency
  • Use positive coping strategies
  • Identify workplace strategies
  • Seek personal therapy
  • Pace your work schedule
  • Vary your work as much as possible
  • Limit your work to 40 hours per week whenever possible
  • Take regular vacations or mini holidays to help recharge

 

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Contributors: Lisa M. Corson and Jessica Gafaar

 

Nonprofit News looks at issues that are of interest to counselor clinicians, with a focus on those who are working in nonprofit settings.

 

Dr. Warren Corson III

“Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, and clinical and executive director of Community Counseling Centers of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). Contact him at docwarren@docwarren.org. Additional resources related to nonprofit design, documentation and related information can be found at docwarren.org/supervisionservices/resourcesforclinicians.html.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

The Counseling Connoisseur: Free time: Vacationing and well-being

By Cheryl Fisher May 31, 2017

 

My schedule is abysmal. I methodically pluck each hour and consume it with some obligation. At the end of my day, my free time is as nonexistent and barren as a sweet-corn field in October. — Cheryl Fisher

 

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Exams are graded. Grades are finally posted. Commencement pomp and circumstance has been observed. I am now able to turn my attention to my much neglected home, garden and family life. Closets and drawers burst with the abundance of unseasonal attire, while young seedlings choke on interloping weeds. I vaguely remember the names of my husband and my canine companion, who both have remained loyal and supportive during these past hectic months.

My closets need space to make room for a warmer climate wardrobe. My seedlings need space to grow to their full capacity. My husband and I need space to reconnect and reclaim the richness of our relationship. We need to make space and time for us!

 

Take back time

The concepts of overwork and “poverty of time” are explored and examined by like-minded professionals at the annual Time Matters: The National Take Back Your Time Conference. These individuals strive to bring life-work balance into practice through discussion and strategy by hosting experts in the field such as historian and author Benjamin Hunnicutt.

Hunnicutt, in his book Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream, challenges that “progress, once defined as more of the good things in life as well as more free time to enjoy them, has come to be understood only as economic growth and more work, forevermore.” He suggests that recommitting to the forgotten American Dream will promote enriched family life and provide more opportunity to “enjoy nature, friendship and the adventures of the mind and of the spirit.”

This sounds great … but how do we do it?

 

Simplify

The most singular thing to do to increase time is to simplify. By minimizing the materialism in one’s life, a person takes back not only time but energy and economy by investing in priority-only possessions, people and protocols. Attending to one or two goals or commitments at a time allows for more full engagement and success. Focusing on positive thoughts reduces ruminating negative feedback loops. Unplugging from digital communication affords solace. Taking steps to simplify life allows for the cultivation of free time.

 

Free time: Benefits of vacation

Recently, I found myself thinking, “I can’t wait until the weekend so that I can get some work done.” Seriously! I was planning to use my weekend to catch up from the workweek.

It was at that point I realized that I needed a vacation. Vacations help to rejuvenate and rehabilitate us from overexposure to demanding schedules and work environments. Here are a few benefits to making the most of our free time.

1) Vacations reduce stress. The American Psychological Association found that vacations reduce stress by removing people from the stressors identified in the workplace. This was similarly found in a Canadian study that examined the role of vacation for 900 lawyers who reported a sense of rejuvenation from the temporary reprieve from their stressful work environments.

2) Vacations reduce heart disease. A Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial for the Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease found that in 12,000 men with high risk for coronary disease, those who took regular vacations reduced their chance of a heart attack by 21 percent. Furthermore, the largest and longest running study, the Farmington Study, found that taking routine vacations significantly decreased the risks of heart disease in both men and women.

3) Vacations decrease depression. A study conducted by Marshall Clinic found that taking regular vacations appears to increase positive emotions and buffer the effects of depression. A similar finding emerged from the University of Pittsburgh’s Mind-Body Study.

4) Vacations may make you thinner. The Mind-Body Study additionally found that taking vacations decreased blood pressure and decreased waistlines. These appear to be related to increased activity levels, a decrease in cortisol and a decrease in stress eating.

5) Vacations improve relationships and sex life. Spending time with loved ones and sharing experiences appears to have a positive effect on the bonding experienced in relationships, Furthermore, lower cortisol levels are believed to promote a positive feedback loop in the brain and increase levels of sex hormones such as testosterone, contributing to an increase of libido. Therefore, people report feeling more easily aroused and experiencing higher levels of sexual satisfaction while on vacation.

 

Conclusion

In an effort to resume balance, and with a renewed sense of conviction to self-care, I take the vacation pledge borrowed from Take Back Your Time (repeat after me):

 

I HEREBY PLEDGE:

To not add to the 429 million days of unused paid time off last year.

To promise to vacation so that I can lead a happier, healthier life.

To recharge, refuel and refresh by taking all the vacation time I have earned.

To ignore my voicemail, email and text messages for days on end.

To reduce my stress, improve my health and nurture my relationships by vacationing on a regular basis.

To return to my regularly scheduled life glowing, smiling and doing a little happy dance.

 

And so it begins … Happy summer!

 

 

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For more on the logistics and responsibilities involved in stepping away from a counseling practice for a much-needed break, see Cheryl Fisher’s archive column “Break away: Five vacation hacks for the responsible counselor

 

 

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Cheryl Fisher

Cheryl Fisher is a licensed clinical professional counselor in private practice in Annapolis, Maryland, and a visiting full-time faculty member in the Pastoral Counseling Department at Loyola University Maryland. Her current research examines sexuality and spirituality in young women with advanced breast cancer. She is working on a book titled Homegrown Psychotherapy: Scientifically Based Organic Practicesthat speaks to nature-based wisdom. Contact her at cyfisherphd@gmail.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.