I was talking last week with a colleague about the tendency among counseling professionals we know to work themselves into exhaustion. We were struck by the number of people who work all week at academic institutions, clinical practices, or both, then do more of it on the weekends- and do so every week! It seems to be a pervasive pattern among counselors to overwork. We talk and write a lot, and certainly counsel clients to practice the elusive self-care in which boundaries are set, personal time is established, and the competing priorities of the outside world are put in their proper place. So why do so few of us do this?
I think indoctrination into unhealthy work habits begins in graduate school. Most counseling grad students must work, sometimes full-time, on top of their scholastic responsibilities. Next comes internship, which if it is paid at all, does not generally provide enough money to support an individual, let alone a family. Like most LPC-interns I knew, I worked at a couple of agencies because no single agency could pay well. I was also a research assistant at the university where I was earning my doctorate. I continued to string jobs together until I landed my full-time faculty assignment with Walden.
I don’t think my story was or is at all atypical. My observation is that many counselor educators feel great pressure to maintain clinical practices, no matter the demands of their academic jobs. Whereas I understand the argument about keeping skills up, and understand even better the need to meet economic needs, I guess I’m a little baffled. In what other profession do people believe they need to do more than a single full-time job? I realize overworking is a norm that’s brought on by financial needs, licensure hours, etc., during graduate school. Once we’re counseling professionals, though, and assuming we’re making ends meet financially, shouldn’t we be able to practice what we promote about wellness and self-care and not work ourselves to death?
Stacee Reicherzer is a counselor, a faculty member at Walden University, and a private consultant with special interests that include: transgender issues in counseling, lateral (within-group) marginalization, and sexual abuse survival.