Self-care and the Counselor

I’ve had lots of conversations recently with both students and supervisees regarding self-care.

With students, somewhere along the way, many get the impression that “self-care” is a version of being very nice to yourself every once-and-a-while.  Some typical examples that I hear: getting a massage, going to a spa, shopping, and binge-watching Netflix.  While getting a massage or going shopping are great things to do to relax or treat yourself, to me, this isn’t what I would consider self-care in the counseling profession.

Self-care focuses more on consistent, on-going efforts to take care of yourself….doing things that are healthy for you and help you to promote your own wellness.  They can be small things over time that offer protection to your body, mind, and spirit.

The example that I typically offer is related to raising a child….stick with me here while I digress….

When you think about taking good care of a child (and promoting their health and wellness), does this mean regularly providing them with treats, candy, chocolate, buying them something new regularly, letting them watch TV for 12-hours straight?

No….it doesn’t.

I might provide a treat every once-in-a-while, but I don’t want to spoil them.  I can’t  give them chocolate after every good or bad thing that happens.

When I think about taking good care of a child, I think about feeding them healthy foods, making sure that they get regular exercise, that they take a bath every night, and that they brush their teeth.  Certainly, I want them to have some fun…but there are certain, non-negotiable things that are important for good care.   Homework, for example, needs to get done…I don’t want them to  spend so much time doing other things at the risk of not getting their homework done.

Speaking of homework, they may need a snack before they start…and that they may need take a break every once and a while to expend some energy so that they can focus on their tasks.  I do not want a child to start working on their schoolwork the minute they get home from school…and then work on it all the way up until bedtime.  They need time to rest and rejuvenate for their next school day.  Their time (the ability to do different things) needs to be protected on a regular basis.  We hear so much these days regarding kids being “over-scheduled”…having too many activities after school.  Sometimes they need time simply to decompress…to allow their mind to wander…to spend time with friends…to play…to not always be on-the-go.  This, however, can’t come at the expense of getting done what needs to get done.  Taking good care of a child also means protecting their time…managing their time until they learn how to do this on their own.

A counselor/therapist’s primary commodity is their time.

For the counselor/therapist, this means that you intentionally expend effort taking good care of yourself…which will mean managing your time.  Make sure that you eat well, get regular exercise, and treat yourself every once-in-a-while (but that you realize these treats are not the primary mode for good self-care).

Allocate time regularly in your schedule for mundane self-care:

  • (healthy) meals (not fast food, on-the-go, or while doing something else),
  • exercise,
  • sleep/rest,
  • relaxing activities (that don’t have to be “special treats”),
  • time with friends/family, play, etc.
  • get up and move around every once- in-a-while. Our profession can be a pretty sedentary one.

Always remember that your life as a counselor/therapist revolves around blocks of time.  You are providing blocks of your time to other people.   Feeling like you are always late can contribute significantly to your stress.  Be sure to start and end appointments on time (this can take some practice early in your career).  If you are constantly traveling from one location to another for appointments or meetings, anticicpate and schedule the time required to travel from one place to the next (put the travel time in your calendar, and be conservative with your allocations of time so that you arrive early).

Image of a sample of my calendar
A sample of my calendar

Personally speaking, I use a digital calendar.  If I were to let you see a snapshot of my day-to-day activities, you would see colorful blocks from the time I wake until it is time for bed in the evening.  There aren’t many blank blocks of time.  It is not that I am that rigid regarding my time….some blocks may read, “Writing time” or “Office hours” or “Home”…where a variety of things may happen.  The idea is to be very intentional and protective of my time.  Certainly, things come up where elements need to be shifted or removed, but I try to be very protective of my time that I have allocated to self-care activities.

Take good care of yourself like you would a child.  Spoiling yourself only every once-in-a-while is not good self-care.  Self-care needs to be regular and consistent.

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