Practically Yours: Self-Care Tips for Counsellors – Emotional Health

Posted by: Derrick Shirley on May 25, 2011 11:26 am

“How does that make you feel?” This is a signature question of psychotherapy. But what does it mean to be emotionally healthy? What is emotional intelligence? How can a counsellor utilize their own emotional intelligence to benefit counselling outcomes? Are there any practical tips related to self-care that enhance good emotional health?

This is part three of a six part series that addresses the links between self-care and good health. In the first two posts, I introduced and discussed physical and mental health (Ivker, Anderson, & Trivieri, 2000). In this post, I will discuss characteristics of good emotional health and offer practical applications for counselling practice.

Ivker et al. (2000), summarize emotional health as a “condition of self acceptance and high esteem”. Components of good emotional health can include confronting fears, playing, recognizing the relationship between your emotions and your physical body, and having a healthy capacity to experience and identify a gambit of feelings from pain to pleasure (Ivker et al.). Emotional intelligence as defined by Mayer and Salovey (1989), is the “ability to monitor one’s own and others feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action.”

How we best manage our emotional expressions and utilize our emotional intelligence in session, is an individual and professional journey. For the gifted practitioner, this may be automatic. For the skilled practitioner, this may be learned through experience. For the novice practitioner, sitting in a room charged with heavy emotional energy, may at times feel overwhelming. Regardless of your years of counselling service, what constitutes effective emotional self-care?

Self-care focused at nurturing good emotional health is similar to that of physical and mental health in that it begins with awareness. Look for body cues, persistent and frequent emotional expressions, or ask for feedback from others. Be curious about your feelings, especially your triggers. Be active in your emotional self-care. Conduct research into Emotional Intelligence or managing and regulating emotions for psychotherapists. Practice deep breathing techniques or guided imagery scripts that focus on emotional management.

In the counselling context, addressing emotional health is pivotal for any treatment plan and/or counselling intervention. In a typical talk-therapy session, I do my best to first connect with my client where they are. Throughout our dialogue I monitor and identify my emotions and body reactions as I do my client’s. If I feel tension in my stomach that feels like anxiety, I may inquire with them how they are feeling, or how they experience and express anxiety in their body. If I take deep breaths to relax, I may suggest deep breathing exercises for my clients. If you would like more information on some of my own self-care activities or would like to receive my daily self-care tips, please visit

If you prioritize your emotional health as you do your physical and mental health, you, your clients, and your practice will enjoy the benefits.

Practically Yours,

Derrick Shirley, MSc.

Ivker, R.S., Anderson, R.A., & Trivieri, L. Jr. (2000). “The self-care guide to holistic medicine: creating optimal health.” Penguin Putnam Inc., New York.

Mayer, John D.; Salovey, Peter (1989). Emotional Intelligence. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, v. 9, Number 3 / 1989-1990. Baywood Publishing Company Inc.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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