Rethinking Your Shoulds
One of the struggles in making the case for a wellness effort among counselors is that often counselors do not practice what they preach (O'Halloran & Linton, 2000). The task force is sensitive to the fact that counselors have unique challenges to their own wellness when regularly and intimately involved in the painful experiences of other peoples' lives. Cognitive restructuring-namely taking time to track negative cognitions that interfere with self-care-can be an effective tool for clinicians who clearly know successful strategies to promote their wellness yet have difficulty implementing them. What are the "should" statements that prevent you from leaving the office earlier, saying "no" to requests from colleagues, or taking lunch? Giving yourself permission to set limits and say "yes" to your own needs is a critical first step.
Begin Where You Are Now
In assessing your wellness strategies generally, ask yourself the following two questions:
- When I examine my wellness needs, what area do I want to begin with Today?
- What area is being most taxed Today?
Develop a Self-Care Program for Your Whole Self
A self-care program should take a holistic approach toward preserving and maintaining our own wellness across domains. Pearlman and MacIan (1995) note the ten most helpful activities that trauma therapists use to promote wellness. They include 1) Discussing cases with colleagues 2) Attending workshops 3) Spending time with family or friends 4) Travel, vacations, hobbies, and movies 5) Talking with colleagues between sessions 6) Socializing 7) Exercise 8) Limiting case load 9) Developing spiritual life, and 10) Receiving supervision. These are strategies that cut across the domains of wellness and match perfectly to the causes of counselor vulnerability.
Reading for pleasure
Volunteering at something NOT counseling-related
Going to the movies, theater, symphony, museum, county fair
Talk to friends
Keep in touch with important people
Participate in an Encouragement Exchange with a colleague
See a Counselor
Give yourself permission to cry
Drink plenty of water
Eat regular meals
Get enough sleep
Turn off the computer/cell phone
Go for a walk during lunch
Get a massage
Yoga, acupuncture, meditation
Take time for reflection
Learn to garden
Spend time outdoors
Find or connect with a Spiritual Community
Seek social support
The support of peers and other social supports are often overlooked, and yet consistently appear as an asset in maintaining wellness. An active supportive relationship with supervisors and peers is an especially important component of self-care for counselors (Catherall, 1995; Munroe, Shay, Fisher, Makary, Rapperport, & Zimering, 1995).
When a counselor is struggling, their ability to accurately monitor their own wellness may also become impaired. At those times the support of peers and supervisors can be especially helpful. More important than simply identifying whether we are stressed, distressed, or impaired, supervisors and peers play a role on the assets side of the ledger. Too often supervision is provided only for counselors who are new to the field or seeking licensure. Supervision can help, even veteran counselors, maintain an appropriate perspective on the counselor's role, mitigating the harmful secondary exposure to trauma by helping counselors to process their counseling work. It is especially important for supervisors in this role to understand that counselors experiencing impairment, or the prelude to impairment, require support towards ameliorating the problem and promoting resiliency. Ultimately, the care that counselors provide others will be only as good as the care they provide themselves.
What Agencies Can Do to Support Wellness
- Educate your staff and supervisors on the concepts of impairment, vicarious traumatization, compassion fatigue and wellness.
- Develop or sponsor wellness programs (such as in-service trainings and day-long staff retreats)
- Provide clinical supervision (not just task supervision)
- Encourage peer supervision
- Maintain manageable caseloads
- Encourage/require vacations
- Do not reward "workaholism"
- Encourage diversity of tasks and new areas of interest/practice
- Establish and encourage EAPs