Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Keeping Ourselves Well: Strategies for Promoting and Maintaining Counselor Wellness

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Keeping Ourselves Well: Strategies for Promoting and Maintaining Counselor Wellness

Article excerpt

This article describes challenges to wellness that counselors face when working with clients. Autobiographical reflections are used to illustrate the personal nature of some of these challenges and how this affects counselor effectiveness and wellness. Additionally, assessment measures and theoretical models for promoting and maintaining wellness are presented.

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A common utterance from counselors in their practice with clients is the statement "You need to make sure to take care of yourself, eat well, get good sleep, and reduce your stress." Like doctors, however, counselors often are remiss in taking their own advice about wellness. Often, we counselors believe we can handle it and that we do not need to be concerned with our own wellness because it does not affect our professional practice. In our daily work, we encounter clients who have tremendous pain. We are their sounding boards and reflectors of feelings. The essence of counseling is to consistently summon the energy to engage with another human's emotions while at the same time balancing our own personal experiences and challenges outside of the job. Jeffrey Kottler described his challenges of providing good client care while feeling distressed as follows: "There isn't a day that goes by that I don't feel impaired in some way, hopefully not to the point that I hurt others, but at least to the point that my levels of competence are diminished" (Kottler & Hazler, 1996, p. 100). Even prominent historical figures in the field of counseling, such as Carl Rogers, described having difficulty with managing self-care and client care: "I have always been better at caring for and looking after others than I have in caring for myself" (Rogers, 1995, p. 80).

This article highlights some of the challenges that counselors face in identifying and maintaining their own wellness, as well as some strategies and resources for assessing one's own wellness. Throughout the article, the third author (Anita Jones), a counselor and a member of the American Counseling Association's Task Force on Exemplary Practices for Promoting Wellness for Counselors, shares her personal story of life's challenges, her path to recovery, and the effect such experiences had on her work as a counselor. She begins as follows:

   Working as a clinical supervisor for a residential treatment center
   came with tremendous stress. Crisis calls came in 24 hours, 7 days
   per week. There was daily responsibility of staff and ancillary
   personnel. I taught at a local junior college and made public
   presentations. In addition, I had the personal stressors that are
   part of my life's journey. My elderly mother shared our home. We
   had taken physical custody of a little boy whose mother was an
   addict with mental illness, which added complexities to our already
   busy lifestyle. Our youngest adult son had been diagnosed 3 years
   earlier with schizophrenia. Counselors who work with schizophrenic
   clients and their families know about the challenges and disruption
   to any family this illness brings. Life was unpredictable, but
   manageable. I had a strong supportive partner, a terrific
   supervisor, good friends, and family who made themselves available.
   (A. Jones)

Even with a good support system and adequate supervision, it is well known that counselors are vulnerable to distress because of the nature of the work that they do. However, many counselors may not realize that their own relationships and state of mental health can make them vulnerable. A study (Sherman & Thelen, 1998) of 522 practicing psychologists indicates that half reported relationship problems and that work with traumatized clients was related to their own experiences of distress or impairment. In a similar study (Pope, Tabachnick, & Keith-Spiegel, 1987), 60% of practicing psychologists surveyed indicated that they very often worked while under distress. …

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