Academic journal article The Professional Counselor

Wellness in Mental Health Agencies

Academic journal article The Professional Counselor

Wellness in Mental Health Agencies

Article excerpt

Burnout and impairment among professional counselors are serious concerns. Additionally, counselors' work environments may influence their levels of wellness and burnout. This phenomenological study included the perspectives of 10 professional counselors who responded to questions about how their work environments influence their sense of wellness. Five themes emerged: (a) agency resources, (b) time management, (c) occupational hazards, (d) agency culture, and (e) individual differences. Implications for professional counselors and future research are discussed.

Wellness promotion focuses on individual strengths and emphasizes holistic growth and development. For example, Myers, Sweeney and Witmer (2000) defined wellness as:

A way of life oriented towards optimal health and well-being in which body, mind, and spirit are integrated by the individual to live life more fully within the human and natural community. Ideally, it is the optimum state of health and well-being that each individual is capable of achieving, (p. 252)

The authors' definition of wellness alludes to one's overall well-being. Counselors often advocate holism, exploration of self and self-actualization for their clients (Cain, 2001). Such aspirations may be achieved through a holistic wellness approach (i.e., attending to intellectual, emotional, physical, occupational and spiritual well-being; Witmer & Young, 1996). Therefore, counselors view wellness as an important aspect of overall human functioning. Although this fundamental view has historically been applied to clients, professional counselors themselves now recognize that they also may benefit from a wellness focus (Maslach, 2003).

Professional counseling organizations (e.g., American Counseling Association [ACA]; American Mental Health Counselors Association [AMHCA]; National Board for Certified Counselors [NBCC]) specifically emphasize the importance of counselor wellness and impairment prevention. For example, counselors are ethically required to recognize when they are impaired. The ACA (2005) ethical standards state that "Counselors are alert to the signs of impairment from their own physical, mental, or emotional problems and refrain from offering or providing professional services when such impairment is likely to harm a client or others" (Standard C.2.g). The AMHCA (2010) ethical standards further state that counselors:

recognize that their effectiveness is dependent on their own mental and physical health. Should their involvement in any activity, or any mental, emotional, or physical health problem, compromise sound professional judgment and competency, they seek capable professional assistance to determine whether to limit, suspend, or terminate services to their clients (Standard C.l.h).

Furthermore, the NBCC (2005) ethical standards indicate that certified counselors discontinue providing services "if the mental or physical condition of the certified counselor renders it unlikely that a professional relationship will be maintained" (Standard A. 15).

The Governing Council of the ACA states that "Therapeutic impairment occurs when there is a significant negative impact on a counselor's professional functioning which compromises client care or poses the potential for harm to the client" (Lawson & Venart, 2005, p. 3). In 2003, this council became proactive in addressing the issue of counselor wellness by creating a task force on counselor wellness and impairment. The task force seeks to educate counselors about impairment prevention, promote resources for prevention and treatment of impaired counselors and to advocate within ACA and its division to address the broader issue of counselor impairment. As a result, they have distributed information on risk factors, assessment, resources and wellness strategies. Thus, a wellness focus is essential for professional counselors to prevent impairment and provide effective counseling services to clients (Witmer & Young, 1996). …

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