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Shainnaupdatedpic Apr 17, 2020

Seven Sets of Self-Care Counselors Could Benefit From During COVID-19

As a global community, we are all adjusting to a new normal as we fight to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. In this community, counselors have been playing a key role. Many have swiftly transitioned to telemental health and have consistently been holding space for the many emotions that are commonly being evoked during this time. As counselors, we are tasked to not only care for others, but to care for ourselves too. In chaotic times such as this, we may forget this ethical and moral imperative. However, maintaining our wellness is critical in being able to practice effectively and deter burnout. Therefore, while self-care is always important, it is particularly important now. Here are seven sets of self-care skills to help you align and adapt your self-care during the time of Coronavirus.

  1. Reflection

    As a mental health professional, you hold space for so many. This probably goes beyond your credentials as your caring, compassionate nature likely extends to those beyond your case load as well, such as your loved ones, colleagues, and others in your community. While it is a gift to be able to help others, don’t forget yourself in the process. The truth is, while you hold space for others, you are likely being reminded of the very similar sentiments you have for experiencing this at the same time as well. Like anyone else: you are affected. You too need to take the time to process. Take the time to reflect on where you are, what you need, and how you can adjust to find yourself closer to equilibrium. Self-awareness is often minimized, but it is the crucial first step before you can intentionally practice any other aspect of self-care.

  2. Centering

    Counselors are often equipped with a self-care toolkit that helps them to cope when faced with life’s stressors. Even those of us who have honed these skills and practice them actively, the suddenness, uncertainty, and gravity of a worldwide pandemic has likely amplified current stressors, added new stressors, and placed a burden on your ability to cope. In addition to this, a risk of being empathic is being influenced by others’ imbalances too, such as listening to the negative impact COVID-19 has had on those under your care.

    In order to adjust, you have to be able to find your center. These are the skills that keep you aligned with your purpose and can help to ground you in times you are swept into a state of overwhelm. Common centering practices may include affirmations, mantras, meditation, prayer, and value clarifications.


  3. Routine

    Counselors often excel at setting, and helping others create, boundaries. As we abide by stay home orders, we are finding that the roles we play are merging…simultaneously…under one roof. As we adjust to telehealth, it may seem as though our boundaries are blurring between our home and work lives. One way to try to maintain a sense of normalcy is to create a new routine. It may feel tempting to complete your paperwork from your bed, it may not actually be the most effective method. Try a semi-structured schedule that allows you to make space for the different roles you are managing (in addition to being a counselor), maintain time boundaries with your clients, and avoid burning out in one role (and subsequently inhibiting the others). Common examples of strategies that pertain to creating a routine include using a calendar, implementing timers, scheduling breaks, improving organization, and creating a specific work space with elements that are included in your office environment.

  4. Movement

    Most counselors in a traditional setting sit for long periods of time. Whether it’s being present with clients or completing logistics, such as scheduling or paperwork, a typical routine is rather sedentary.  Now, we do may have to rise to welcome clients to our office or transition from our counseling couch to our desks. On top of this, we don’t have to go very far to meet our basic needs. With these blurred boundaries, we could catch ourselves stuck to the screen for more time than we are used to, and getting a lot less activity than we may need to foster mind-body wellness. Consider the ways you can build in movement into your day, no matter how simple. That could be as simple as standing between sessions, but if movement is a key domain of your overall well-being, be sure to schedule time to get the ample amount of activity you need in your new normal. Common movement methods include walking, running, yoga, stretching, dancing, and other forms of exercise.

    lemonade in white ceramic mug

  5. Relaxation

    Counselors are commonly affected by the emotions of those around them. Typically, maintaining a general state of wellness and proper boundaries help to buffer from burn out, however, due to the intensity of the pandemic many counselors can feel the surge of tension that exists in their spaces and in the wider community. While rest is always essential, it is critical now in order to replenish and be able to practice ethically and effectively. Nevertheless, the difficulty has spiked, especially for those who are working in settings that emphasize their essential nature and do not have telehealth options. Don’t underestimate the importance of rest. Tune into your needs and allow yourself to create time to reenergize. Common relaxation skills include deep breathing, resting, practicing stillness, soothing the senses, and engaging in immersive yet simple tasks.

  6. Support

    Who helps the helper? We are fortunate to be in a field that encourages our connection, and in times such as these, we can benefit from our American Counseling Association community. Support may come in many forms: consider what you may need to help you tailor your process. Perhaps you need guidance on regulations in your area. If you are a student or intern, perhaps a supervisor could help you. The American Counseling Association has also accumulated a list of state actions on telebehavioral health that may be helpful. Maybe you’re seeking a second opinion on a virtual counseling platform and perhaps a colleague or mentor can assist you. Or it’s possible that you may simply need someone to connect with you, and this could include a loved one near or far.

    Remember social distancing is not synonymous with social isolation. We live in a time in which technological advances provide us with several options to connect. Be creative and explore various ways to remain connected. Examples may include a video chat gathering, sending a thank you E-mail, share a meme with a friend, or call a loved one.

  7. Counseling

Having a degree in counseling can certainly help us to foster our own wellness, however, there is no diploma, certification, or license that declares you can no longer benefit from counseling ourselves. If you believe in the efficacy of counseling, in times that you find yourself particularly struggling with mental wellness, wouldn’t counseling be the clear choice? If you have decided that counseling is no longer for you since you are a counselor, please take a moment to catch and explore this contradiction. If you find yourself experiencing an increase in intense stress as a result of tending to your own needs and others during COVID-19 counseling may be a great choice in self-care. If you have previously been to counseling, you can begin by reviewing past lessons or reaching out to your previous provider. However, if you are looking for a new counselor this could be a great opportunity to seek match within your state who could help you via telemental health too. 

Shainna Ali is a mental health counselor, educator, and advocate located in Central Florida. Dr. Shainna is passionate about highlighting the importance of mental health awareness, assessment, and care in living a happy and healthy life. Her areas of focus in research and practice include identity and culture, emotional intelligence, trauma, and creativity in counseling.  For more information on Dr. Shainna please visit

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