Strolling along my favorite path the other day, I spontaneously bent down and picked up a smooth, grey pebble that fit perfectly in my palm. It was warm from sitting in the sun. I showed the pebble to my husband, explaining that I had just watched “The Secret,” a documentary in which a man shared his experience with keeping a gratitude stone in his pocket. I turned the warm pebble over in my hand. It’s fascinating to me how the brain is able to recognize an object as you rotate it around, and look at it from close up or far away. The more I turned the pebble over in my hand and looked at it from all different angles, I was able to gather more information about that little pebble, such as its texture, its gradient colors, and its shape. If I could analyze it closely enough, I could see evidence of what it’s made of, where it’s been, and what kinds of little creatures have interacted with it in the past!
I have begun to see my counseling practice with a similar approach. My clients come in with a list of problems and we turn the situation over and over like a pebble in the hand, trying to discover details and patterns in the stories shared. It is becoming apparent to me that clients seem to want answers to questions that I cannot give, such as “what’s wrong with me?” or “how do I get my spouse to love me again?” or “how can I get through this depression so I can get on with my life?” As a new counselor, I sometimes struggle with the desire to take on and try to fix my clients, as if my job were to be some kind of superwoman. However, I know that it’s not my job to fix it, only to help the client rotate the situation like a pebble within their own hands to find their own solutions.
My hope is that I can help clients look at their lifestyle to see where patterns and habits have formed to create the issues that they face using the wellness paradigm. Moreover, using the wellness paradigm, I can help clients take action towards new habits that will increase their quality of life.
Wellness is not the absence of illness. Wellness is about learning how to improve the overall quality of life and health, even in the presence of illness or imperfect health. When practicing wellness, a person comes to accept their current state of health while also striving towards a meaning and choose lifestyle habits that will improve their health over time. The wellness perspective in counseling promotes intentional, self-directed action towards lifestyle habits that increase healthy functioning, reduce the risk for mental illness and chronic disease, and improve overall quality of life. Today, I want to take a look at the physical wellness aspect of Hettler's six dimensional model of wellness.
Physical wellness is defined as the "Commitment to self-care through regular participation in physical activity and healthy eating." (as cited in Strout & Howard, 2015). Physical wellness can be promoted in counseling by encouraging clients to regularly practice self-care for the body’s needs. Elements of the physical wellness paradigm seek to address the body’s needs, including: eating a balanced diet that fulfills nutritional needs, building a suitable fitness routine, getting regular and adequate sleep, using stress-management and coping skills, avoiding injury and harm, seeking medical treatment for illness, and seeking regular preventive health care. Evidence suggests that addressing these and other physical health concerns through behavioral change can improve mental/emotional health and psychological functioning (Strout & Howard, 2015).
Taking care of the body is essential to wellness. In my practice, discussing self-care for the body is just as important as discussing clients’ mental/emotional issues because I see clients who are overworked, sleep deprived, stressed out, overweight, struggling with addictions, battling chronic illness, and/or have not been eating well. Often, these clients don’t realize the importance of taking care of their bodies in order to have the strength and energy to make changes in other areas of life. From my experience, clients sometimes seem to view self-care activities such as eating well, making doctor’s appointments, and exercising, as a luxury that they cannot afford. In these cases, I try to help clients make a connection between their values, such as “I want to be around for my children in 10+ years,” and their current state of health. I will ask the questions, “How is your current lifestyle working to help you live ten to twenty more years?” and “How will your current lifestyle help you enjoy your life?” My hope is to help clients discover that they have the power in the current moment to affect their future wellness.
Strout, K. A., & Howard, E. P. (2015). Five dimensions of wellness and predictors of cognitive health protection in community-dwelling older adults. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 33(1).
Hanna Rodriguez is a counselor in training at McNeese State University, and is completing her internship at the McNeese Kay Dore Gambling Treatment Program in Lake Charles, Louisiana. She is interested in viewing mental health from a wellness perspective. Read more about Hanna at: