The other night in my practicum class, I had an informal discussion with some classmates about self-care. I said, “if I do one self-care activity, that should be it, right? I should be emotionally ready to move on with my life, even if it was a really intense day of counseling.” Unfortunately, self-care is not always something you can check off of a list – it may be more of a mindset, of being aware that you are more emotionally fragile while you are processing your counseling sessions. My friend Michael DeJesus said in response to my statement that we need we remember we are new at this and have not developed an understanding of our own emotional reactions yet. He said to think of it like a sore muscle; if you go for a long, hard run for the first time ever, you will be sore afterwards. You may not notice it until you go to walk up stairs, or go out for the second run, but you will be sore nonetheless. With more training, you will build up the strength and endurance. Similarly, with beginning counseling we may be emotionally sore to start.
Self-care may take a little time and a little patience, as well as a few good tools. For some counselors, this may mean singing loudly on the drive home, chatting with a friend on the phone, making a nice dinner, taking a walk or going for a run, or watching a mindless tv show. For counseling graduate students, it might mean taking some of that pressure off of yourself, even if it’s just for an evening.
One word of advice: if you are struggling to adjust emotionally to working in the baggage department of other people’s lives, let at least one of your social supports know. That way, at least if you end up crying in your kitchen because the coffee grounds spilled all over the floor while you were making dinner, your boyfriend (or girlfriend, spouse, parent, cat or roommate) will have some idea why!