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Maintaining a good therapeutic relationship with a client and providing them the best help possible, are vital parts of the role of being a good counselor. Professions like this, that are ones to give more than receive, in turn often face burnouts and STS (Secondary Traumatic Stress). A counselor is expected to deliver a degree of empathetic engagement every time they meet with a client. Research has shown that when a counselor decides to ignore burnouts and stresses caused from the profession itself, they are not able to help their clients in the best way that they are trained to do so. This essay will discuss the vital reasons why counselors should place their mental health, life happiness, and stable goals in check before they can try and help their clients during counseling.
Counselors are recognized in communities as the healers to people who come to them in distress from problems in their current lives, previous severe trauma, or behaviors they’re not proud of, all in hopes that their counselor will do the healing process. When the workload of typical cases of huge distress or trauma start to accumulate during their careers, counselors may start facing burnout, or exhaustion from excessive amount of work handed to them (Halloran, Linton, 2000). It should be noted that burnout from a profession that requires one to be fully emotionally available to a client may trigger irritability towards other future clients, increase sensitivity to hearing certain things being confessed, and a reduced amount of ambition towards other aspects of their life outside of work that count on them too, like family and friends. In addition to burnout effects, counselors are at risk of facing STS (Secondary Traumatic Stress) from clients with severe cases where trauma like rape/sexual assault, death, or even crime have occurred. These cases can result in “depression, insomnia, loss of intimacy with friends and family, and both are cumulative” (Halloran, Linton,2000, p. 355). Burnout and STS faced by a counselor in essence can negatively damage the counseling relationship and practice if not addressed. In a study conducted by Gentry, Baggerly, and Baranowsky (2004), 83 licensed mental health counselors facing STS were designated and given a certified compassion fatigue training course treatment plan in which coping methods were presented, the results accomplished were that the counselors felt a reduction in burnout after the study was over. For counselors to provide the best and candid help possible, they must contribute towards their selfcare as a person themselves first by having a sense of awareness, a thirst for a content life outside of work, and finally setting their own personal goals, just like they help clients set theirs.
The initial step that the counselor should acknowledge towards creating a sense of more comfort in their lives is to know when to recognize that their profession is being impacted by the burnout or STS experienced. Oftentimes, practicing this awareness requires the counselor to practice mindfulness on how their compassion and emotional availability is when they sit down with a client. Researcher Warren emphasizes in his article that “self-awareness and mindfulness are related to a counselor’s ability to be present with their clients” (p. 110). One great way that counselors practice their self-awareness is by seeking help when needed by communicating with supervisors in the counseling profession regarding their counseling relationship with a patient. At times, counselors are not fit to help a client because of the stresses and instability that they are facing personally and what could happen in worst case scenario is that they damage the client, instead of healing them (Merriman, 2014). When this happens, a supervisor is able to address self-care with counselors or interns training to be counselors, by properly preparing them how to practice self-awareness techniques that will be crucial towards their maturity in the profession. As Richards (2010) stated, “support from others can benefit personal and professional development” (p. 250). Almost like when counselors assign homework to their clients, a supervisor can support a counselor in training by simply telling them to go “take a walk”, “leave work early today to be with your kids”, or “go have a longer lunch break”, just to provide a sense to them that self-care truly is important in this profession.
The effects of burnouts and STS can be detrimental to the lives outside of work for counselors, affecting their relationship with romantic partners, friends, families, and even own children. Examples of how a counselor can practice towards living a happier life are by doing simple things on their daily schedule like journaling, balancing work and going on dates with a special lover, keeping up with family activities, praying or practicing gratitude, taking paid vacations, reading new material, and especially by keeping the human body moving through physical exercise. Simply exercising thirty minutes of your day has been shown to decrease the symptoms associated with mental illness, depression, and anxiety and as a result help the body deal better in stressful situations related to burnouts in the mundane professions of helping others. (Richards, 2010). Plus, setting goals that are attainable towards your physical and mental health can provide counselors with a sense of accomplishment and content when goals towards their self-care are met, just like when clients meet their goals in the counseling relationship. One important goal that counselors can set and easily monitor is how much sleep they are receiving. Sleep is known by many for the abundant aids it provides towards a healthy psych and physical performance that only a fully emotional and empathetically engaged counselor can provide in service to a client. Studies show that seven to eight hours of sleep a night is sufficient for maximum performance, and that anything lower than that can be indicative of underlying issues forming in the long run, one of them being memory and concentration decreasing (Puterbaugh,2011). Taking note of how much sleep and physical activity counselors can attain in such a hectic and emotionally consuming career can significantly expand their overall outlook on their lives outside of the therapy sessions they give, and likewise create a sense of healthy achievement.
Counselors who put their needs and happiness under the carpet, or in other words disregard them will find their ambition towards helping others diminish throughout time because one can’t simply service without treating themselves as needed to do so. By being aware of the negative stresses kicking in their career and bringing it to attention, aiming towards enjoying things outside of their work-space like having a family get together, and setting attainable goals that are to be honored if completed, have been shown to teach the counselor that taking care of themselves is just as vital as taking care of clients in need in this world.
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