Practically Yours: Self-Care Tips for Counsellors

Posted by: Derrick Shirley on April 12, 2011 9:07 am

My favourite activity at my childhood camp was “FREE TIME!” I even remember it being written in capitol letters on the weekly schedule. If it was sunny, we went to the swimming hole. If it was raining, we created a mudslide. Nothing could keep us from going outside to play. As adults, we spend time with friends, play games with the kids, or take a vacation and get lost in a sunset. We have been doing “self-care” our whole lives.

As we age, responsibilities grow and “self-care” becomes more important. Full and part-time jobs, demanding schedules, parenting, caring for aging parents, spending more time with family and friends, justifiably or not, all means less time for ourselves.  Add to this the increasing roles and responsibilities of counselling, and effective self-care becomes not only a professional, but ethical imperative.

Counselling research discussions have explored the occurrence, symptoms, and ways of avoiding “burnout” for decades. The “Counsellor Burnout Inventory”1 was developed to assess counsellors’ level of burnout through five dimensions: exhaustion, incompetence, negative work environment, devaluing clients, and deterioration in personal life. Sometimes though, even when we try our best to maintain a healthy work-life balance, we still push ourselves too far. When this happens, not only do we suffer, but our clients suffer as does our practice and our profession.

Effective self-care means going from, “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” or, “You know what I should do…” to making plans and following through. This may sound easy, but it is the “doing” part that most struggle with. Whatever you have to do to make it happen, from taking a conscious deep breath to booking your tickets to Hawaii for a family vacation, our self-care efforts need to be revitalizing, habitual, enjoyable and indeed, practical.

Self-care is not selfish; it is selffull and starts with taking action. I encourage you to bookmark this page, try out a new suggested activity, and/or share your own self-care best practices. In my own private practice, when I have a full client load, sometimes I schedule myself into an appointment slot for the following week just to give myself the experience of “FREE TIME!”

Finding and maintaining a healthy work-life balance is the goal and we are all in this together.

Practically Yours,

Derrick Shirley

1.     Sang Min Lee, Crystal R. Baker, Seong Ho Cho, Danette E. Heckathorn, Michael W. Holland, Rebecca A. Newgent, Nick T. Ogle, Michael L. Powell, James J. Quinn, Sam L. Wallace, & Kumlan Yu (2007). Development and initial psychometrics of the counselor burnout inventory. Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, v. 40. American Counseling Association.

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

2 comments on “Practically Yours: Self-Care Tips for Counsellors”

  1. Thanks for your comments and thoughts Preston.

    I stumbled onto the idea of scheduling myself in when I had a client with the same name as me, miss an appointment. After that, every now and then I would throw ‘me’ into my schedule and loved the surprise when I checked my phone for my next appointment and saw my name in the slot with a smiley face beside it.

    I you like, we can discuss “exhaustion” in the next post. I post every two weeks.

  2. Preston S. says:

    I love this post. The idea that free time should be scheduled as it’s own event is kind of pathetic that needed but so true. In the counseling profession specifically exhaustion can be an every day matter.

    Thanks for the insights.

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