This rule of thumb up in the air, also holds a lot of weight down on the ground, especially in the counselling room.
This may seem a unique principle but it is also an ethical consideration outlined in the BACP Ethical Framework.
Care of self as a practitioner
75. We will take responsibility for our own wellbeing as essential to sustaining good practice by:
a. taking precautions to protect our own physical safety.
b. monitoring our own psychological and physical health.
c. seeking professional support and services as the need arises.
d. keeping a healthy balance between our work and other aspects of life.
BACP (2015) Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions
It is all there, but as a counsellor and a counsellor-in-training, are we really making this a priority? Or do we wait until it all gets too much and then find we are forced to take some urgent steps?
Using the analogy of putting on the oxygen mask, Counsellors who neglect their own mental, physical and spiritual self-care eventually run out of ’oxygen’ and cannot effectively help their clients because all of their energy is going out to the clients and nothing is coming back in to replenish their own energy.
Although counsellors and counsellors in training know that this is very important, some many find it a challenge to put the concept into practice. As life gets busy, counsellors may tend to assume that they can, or even should, handle problems and stress on their own.
We are asked as professionals to provide a tremendous amount of empathy to our clients. We often listen to very tragic and emotionally difficult stories. We are offering this empathy to the client and offering a place to share these stories, yet our profession is not meant to be a two-way street — the client is not there to provide us empathy.
So, somehow, when you do that work on a daily basis, you have to have an outlet to receive things back.
Otherwise, you end up depleting yourself and you don’t have anything more to give.
The path to finding balance begins with recognising warning signs and not feeling ashamed of them.
It is important for counsellors to understand that there are risk factors inherent in the work and that noticing signs of stress or distress is a sign of health, not impairment.
Make a habit of checking in with yourself.
Check in with yourself
Warning signs include:-
- Feeling irritated about clients
- Experiencing a low level of energy
- Having problems develop at home
- Viewing the world and the people in it as unsafe
- Losing your sense of humour.
Learn simple strategies to nurture yourself within your day, including nourishing [yourself] with enough water, good nutrition and movement and exercise.
Taking a walk, journalling, practicing mindfulness and taking advantage of clinical supervision and peer support groups.
Integrate relaxing activities such as yoga, deep breathing and listening to music before and after sessions.
Importantly ......Protect your well-being in a session
Be honest about the days you're available.
Set limits when negotiating fees with clients.
Maintain boundaries as this is a crucial element of self-care e.g. taking vacations and holidays.
A lack of professional boundaries can create feelings of being overwhelmed.
People who end up in the helping professions are naturally inclined to take care of others. Plus counselling, by design, is a one-way caring relationship.
How can counsellors infuse what they know into their day-to-day lives?
Have a quick shower and change your clothes after you have finished your counselling day and this means everyone - even if you're on your placement, and even after a being in training.
Mark this as a transition from the two different types of day/experiences you have had.
Make a list of activities you enjoy doing and be deliberate about incorporate one of those activities into your every day life.
Never underestimate the power of a restful eight hours of sleep, exercise and good nutrition throughout the day.
Lunch with a friend can lift your spirits and taking a Sunday off to rest and play can help recharge for the week. That includes all technology!
Although self-care can appear large, the process begins with just one step.
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