Self-Care and Beyond: A Brief Literature Review from a Christian Perspective

By Tan, Siang-Yang; Castillo, Melissa | Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

Self-Care and Beyond: A Brief Literature Review from a Christian Perspective


Tan, Siang-Yang, Castillo, Melissa, Journal of Psychology and Christianity


Psychologists and psychology trainees face various challenges, including elevated risks of stress, burnout, and vicarious traumatization. Goncher, Sherman, Barnett, & Haskins (2013) endorse ongoing self-care as a foundational professional competency and an ethical imperative for practice (see also Barnett, Baker, Elman, & Schoener, 2007; Barnett, Johnston, & Hillard, 2006; Tan 2011). Self-care practice may be conceptualized as the engagement in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that maintain and promote physical, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being. According to Charlescraft, et al. (2010): "Self-care addresses those elements of life that allow one to be well in a variety of ways spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally-for the purpose of renewal and personal growth" (p. 18).

Self-care is crucial for the well-being of the counselor. It is also essential for the efficient, effective, and ethical practice of counseling, for the ultimate benefit and welfare of the client (see Norcross and Guy, 2007). Self-care is not "selfish care" or "self-centered care." "Self-care for the counselor, however, refers to healthy and wise strategies for taking good care of oneself as a counselor in order to manage stress well and prevent burnout.... It is....loving and wise to engage in proper selfcare that eventually leads to the helping and healing of others" (Tan, 2011, p. 19).

Self-care strategies for the professional and personal self are intimately related. Professional and personal self-care involves ongoing self-awareness and active self-assessment and the use of helpful self-care strategies. However, a Christian perspective on and biblical critique of self-care is also needed.

Self-Care for Counselors

Recently, several helpful recommendations and challenges have been noted in the self-care literature. Goncher, et al. (2013) endorse the use of 12 ongoing self-care strategies by psychologists and psychology trainees in order to manage inherent professional stresses and challenges, including: "valuing the person of the psychotherapist, refocusing on the rewards of the practice of psychology, recognizing occupational hazards, minding the body, cultivating and nurturing supportive relationships, setting boundaries, cognitive restructuring, sustaining healthy escapes, creating a flourishing environment, personal psychotherapy, cultivating spirituality and mission, and fostering creativity and growth (see Norcross & Guy, 2007, for a comprehensive review)" (p. 57).

Wise, Hersh, and Gibson (2012) advocate for a comprehensive and reciprocal process of self-care, inspired by Rabbi Hillel's philosophy "If not now...when?," that includes mindfulness practices, valuesoriented acceptance-based therapies, and positive psychology based on the following four principles: aspiring to flourish with emphasis on resilience building strategies (in contrast to a survival strategy that barely maintains the status quo and prevents negative stress reactions), intentional selection of a longterm self-care plan, awareness and practice of reciprocity in care of self and others, and the integration of self-care strategies into the professional lifestyle (in contrast to adding additional "to do's on top of already stressful and hectic schedules). In addition, Cohn and Hastings (2013) identified the navigation of culturally appropriate boundaries among members of the community and boundaries between professional and personal roles as critical self-care strategies.

Skovholt (2001) recommends the following selfcare strategies for sustaining and nurturing the professional self of the counselor: avoiding the impulse toward grandiosity; thinking long-term; putting together and actively applying an individual development method or plan; cultivating professional self-understanding; creating a professional greenhouse (environment for growth) at work; having leadership that facilitates balance between self-care and caring for others; drawing on professional social support from peers; getting support from bosses, supervisors, and mentors; learning how to be playful and professional; releasing emotions of distress through professional venting; understanding the reality of early professional anxiety; reinventing oneself to increase excitement and reduce boredom; dealing with ambiguous professional loss by minimizing it; learning to refuse unreasonable requests (see Skovholt 2001, pp. …

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