Self-Care for Counselors

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!

Johanna Bond

Author: Johanna Bond

Johanna Bond is a master's student in the community mental health counseling program at the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester.  She is from the Rochester area and graduated from Swarthmore College in 2010 with a degree in psychology and English.

4 thoughts on “Self-Care for Counselors”

  1. Great blog, Johanna!  The “sore muscle” analogy was especially good.  And the spilled coffee, everyone understands!

  2. Excellent post!  I think this topic is really something that needs to be emphasized more in counselor/therapist training programs.  Self care in the mental health field is very important both for the individual’s effectiveness as a therapist and to prevent burnout over the long haul.  It’s nice to see a student blogger addressing this issue – and highlighting that self-care is a process, not an item on the to-do list.

  3. I commend you for encouraging students to let one of their social supports know if they are having a hard time processing the emotions that are always coming our way. That’s what social supports are for and everyone has their own ways of dealing with this problem. The more techniques you can learn while in school, the better off you’ll be when you have graduated and need to process these things at a time when you might feel more alone.

  4. I agree that self-care isn’t something we can just do and be done with. It should be practiced often and most importantly with patience. Very entertaining read, thanks for this!

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