Wellness is central to counselors’ professional identity and the definition of counseling itself. But in helping our clients on their wellness journeys, we must also attend to our individual and communal care.
According to Jonathan Ohrt and colleagues in their 2019 book Wellness Counseling: A Holistic Approach to Prevention and Intervention, there are five domains of wellness: mind, body, spirit, emotion and connection. Their book speaks to many important aspects of how counselors can incorporate a wellness approach that works with the whole person using strength-based and prevention-based interventions, as well as considers the need for wellness across the life span and is integrative. Each of these areas mirrors what counselors also need for their wellness or self-care .
In their book, Ohrt and colleagues highlight the importance of wellness for counselors. As counselors, we are ethically obligated to integrate wellness into our clinical practice as we strive to act with nonmaleficence and beneficence in our work with clients. The 2014 ACA Code of Ethics also calls on us to serve with respect to justice, advocacy and cultural responsiveness. Although we hold these responsibilities to ourselves and to our work, we also have the expectation and need for systemic and workplace reform to establish and maintain environments, policies and procedures that honor our humanity and well-being.
The need to prioritize the importance of wellness applies to the systems we work within, the care we give and the care we receive both from ourselves and our employers. In 2022, the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General published a framework for workplace mental health and well-being. This framework addresses five essential factors (or needs) for employee wellness: protection from harm, connection and community, work-life harmony, mattering at work and opportunity for growth. These areas are clearly integral to how counselors help clients accomplish their mental health and wellness goals as well as how counselors act as agents of change.
Although as counselors we recognize the importance of and the need for consistent wellness practices, we sometimes struggle with prioritizing our own care. We may neglect our own wellness in response to daily stressors, injustices or barriers. Finding pockets of rest, however, has benefits for one’s overall wellness plan. Pockets of rest can be defined as micro acts of mind, body and soul care that we engage in throughout the day. This will look different from one person to the next, and the frequency will vary. But the underlying goal is to intentionally take moments throughout the day and give ourselves permission to engage in the care that we need.
What comes to mind, for you, when you think about what rest looks and feels like for your wellness? For me, rest is being intentional about allowing myself the time and space to just be. It’s putting aside the worries about the things on my to-do lists and breaking up with society’s pressure to always be productive. It’s turning the switch “off” to what others might want and giving myself permission to just be. What’s done in that time truly depends on my heart’s desire: picking up a book, writing in my journal, walking in nature, sitting in quiet, taking a moment to lie down, gardening or none of the above. Regardless of when, what and how, the goal of rest for me is to listen and respond to what my mind, body and soul need for care.
What feels good and restorative for your pockets of rest is best determined by you at that moment. Listening to what you feel in your mind, body and soul is a guide to help you identify what, when and how you need rest.
Sure, pockets of rest are not a replacement for deep rest and restorative practices that might require more planning. These steps also won’t replace the need for social justice reform and the impact of sociopolitical inequities that do harm and reinforce burnout. However, deep, meaningful and healing rest is the care that we all need and deserve. One’s beliefs about rest may require deprogramming from the oppressive and exploitative messages that tell us that rest is laziness or something to be earned.
Rest is a necessity for your overall well-being and a form of radical self-care. The work you do as a counselor is not without sacrifice and costs. The health care field needs counselors more than ever right now. Your rest is essential for you, your clients and the communities that you serve and belong to.
For a deeper dive into the concepts addressed in this article, check out the resources below:
- “Give yourself permission to rest” by Kareema J. Gray and Latoya B. Brooks
- “Healing, empowering, engaging, learning, and decolonizing through culture: Living wellness, resilience, and resurgence in the classroom through creative arts” by Shannon M. Tabor and colleagues
- “‘Hey Mama;’ ‘Dear Sister;’ ‘Sister Love’: Black women’s healing and radical self-care through epistolary work” by Desireé R. Melonas
- “Transformative radical self-care by women in African and Pan-African spiritual traditions: Divine power of joy, lemonade self-care, self-love holiday” by Françoise B. Cromer
- Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto by Tricia Hersey
- Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself by Nedra Glover Tawwab
- All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks
- Decolonizing Trauma Work: Indigenous Stories and Strategies by Renee Linklater
- The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health: Navigate an Unequal System, Learn Tools for Emotional Wellness, and Get the Help You Deserve by Rheeda Walker
- My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem
- Counseling Awareness Month website resources
About the Author: Christa Butler is a licensed professional counselor, registered play therapist supervisor, and a nationally certified TF- CBT therapist, and is approved by the Virginia Board of Counseling to provide licensure supervision. She serves as the Professional Counseling Issues Specialist at the American Counseling Association. Christa has worked in mental health for over a decade. Her current professional interests are nature-based therapies, conscious parenting and parenting for liberation, attachment-based parent-child work, and decolonization to wellness.