When I first started practicing counselling with my peers in graduate school, I was surprised at how much energy it took to be fully present with another person’s story and carefully weave in emerging counselling skills. I came out of practice sessions feeling both excited and drained. Thankfully, my counselling skills and energy regulation have evolved since those early days. There are specific, quick strategies that help me to remain centered and grounded during sessions and between clients, and I’d like to share them here with you.
- Hydrate. This was one of the best pieces of advice that I heard in my graduate degree courtesy of Dr. Dawn McBride – she recommended drinking plenty of water during sessions to remain hydrated. This helps prevent literal headaches for me, which makes life easier! Taking a thoughtful sip of water can buy a moment of reflection to respond to an unexpected client statement. As a bonus, the act of getting up after a session to refill a water bottle allows for a quick physical break and sense of movement between sessions.
- Imagine. I work with clients on creating containment imagery to help them feel safe, and I use my own mental container when I need to disengage from a persistent thought or story after a session. I reserve this for the “big stuff” that would otherwise affect my ability to be fully present with my next client. Alternatively, I might visualize thoughts as clouds that are drifting by or another similar image to gently detach from them.
- Sense. After a heavy session, I often like to do a quick act of self-nurturing with one or more of my senses. I keep a little self-care first aid kit in my office with things like mints, lip balm, hand lotion, a peppermint essential oil roller, and river stones. I can use any combination of these to anchor and nurture myself in the brief space between two clients.
- Write. In a perfect world, I complete my notes in the 10-minute space between clients -when this happens, I feel like a rockstar. Realistically, my notes are usually done at the end of the day. Concisely distilling 50 minutes of work to capture progress and plans helps me to clearly mark a boundary between one client and the next. At the end of the day, it helps me to draw a line in the sand between work and home, the professional and the personal. Either way, I feel that my work is safely (and ethically) contained and I am free to move along with the next part of my day.
Well, there are a few quick strategies that I use throughout my workday to refresh and stay regulated. What are your favourite ways to care for your needs between clients? Feel free to reflect or post in the comments below.
Annelise Lyseng is a registered psychologist at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta.
The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA
Before March 2020, I had hoped to eventually take a course to learn more about online counselling in case I ventured into it at a future date. Little did I know that I would soon be plunged unceremoniously into telehealth thanks to the impacts of COVID-19. I am happy to report that it has been a fairly smooth transition, with special thanks to colleagues who researched digital counselling platforms and configured doxy.me and VPN access to our online records management for our team. Here are a few of my key takeaways from the transition to online counselling:
- Ethics first: For our team, this meant carefully revising our informed consent documents, emergency planning protocols, and intake process. We had to consider the additional risks, particularly around security and privacy, connected to telehealth and communicate these effectively to our current and new clients. I completed several extensive online courses that clearly outlined the ethical and legal considerations of telehealth. This training was invaluable, and I felt more secure in my practice after thoroughly reviewing these unique ethics.
- Find a community: Amidst the dubious benefits of working from home, such as sweatpants and fridge proximity, I struggled with being physically distanced from my vibrant and supportive team of colleagues. We continue to engage in regular virtual meetings, consultations, and ongoing group chats, which I deeply appreciate. One of the online courses also helped me connect with an online community devoted entirely to practicing online therapy – learning from others and sharing resources has helped immensely with improving confidence and decreasing isolation.
- Save your sight: For me, this meant ensuring that I’m wearing my blue-light blocking prescription glasses, trying to follow the 20-20-20 rule (every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to stare at something 20 feet away), calibrating the height of my laptop to find the right angle for looking thoughtfully at clients without straining my neck, and adjusting the lighting in my improvised home office to a comfortable level. I also activated the blue light filter on my laptops and other devices.
- Reflect and appreciate the old, and new, office: As mentioned, I appreciate my colleagues even more now that we have been distanced. I miss other aspects of the old office – using experiential interventions in session such as a picture card sort task, having access to a large shredding unit for session notes, enjoying a comfortable and devoted counselling space without interruptions from a neighbour’s barking dog or an exuberant toddler, and in general delineating a clear boundary between work and home. However, I have also appreciated aspects of my new office, especially the lack of a commute through rush hour traffic, an ability to prep supper while I’m on my lunch break, and an opportunity to push myself and grow professionally. I am saddened at the circumstances that brought telehealth into my practice, but I am grateful for the privilege that I have in my work and the learning that this has brought into my personal and professional life.
Annelise Lyseng is a registered psychologist at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta. *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA