Taking Care of Yourself as a Counselor

Taking Care of Yourself as a Counselor
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By Stephanie Lamancusa, MSW, LSW, LCADC, Executive Director, Vineland Treatment Services

Woman counselor holding a clip book.

As a counselor, you know all the catchphrases: “Physician, heal thyself,” “You do you,” “Become your own #1 fan.” But when it comes to taking care of yourself as a counselor, actions speak louder than words, and that action is taking the therapeutic steps you need to stay mentally fit and spiritually healthy so you can better serve your community.

Is It Wrong for a Counselor to Need Counseling?

Undoubtingly and unequivocally, it is NOT wrong for a counselor to need counseling. As a matter of fact, quite the opposite is true. Every job has its challenges and bad days, but the very nature of counseling makes it imperative that counselors are also counseled.

Why Counselors Need Counseling

Group of counselors helping each other.

People don’t go to counseling because they are happy and just want to share it with someone. They go because something is bothering them and they need help sorting it out. In this profession, a counselor wakes up every morning knowing that they are going to have to consider:

  • Tough calls about steps to take
  • No-win situations where you have to choose the lesser of two evils
  • Continual clinicity—an incredible balance of understanding your patients’ feelings, yet staying professional and not allowing yourself to become emotionally influenced

As a concept, counseling is inherently empathetic. In addition to your own daily health, relationship, family, and spiritual needs, you are absorbing the trauma, fears, and emotions of your clients or patients. You have to in order to do a good job.

You also haul a tremendous amount of confidentiality cargo. You know about so many horrible things that are happening to people, but you can’t tell a soul. That is a tremendous weight to carry and could sink any ship. It is hard to help someone with a life preserver when you, yourself, are over your head and drowning.

Overcoming the Shame Roadblock

There are a number of interpretations of the shame roadblock. Some counselors will begin to feel ashamed because they “have it so good” compared to their patients. They may even start feeling guilt for charging fees to people who are already hurting.

Some counselors also believe that if they feel stressed, they must be doing something wrong and hit a shame roadblock because of it. This misguided thought process leads a counselor to believe, “If I can’t help myself, how can I help anyone else?”

Taking care of yourself as a counselor by talking to a therapist yourself can be your “check engine” light. It’s time to take a look at the machinations of your practice and your life, and make the necessary tune-ups and repairs.

The Benefits of Counseling to a Counselor

The beauty of getting counseling as a counselor is that there are benefits for you personally and professionally, and thus in turn for your patients. During your sessions, you can be enjoying:

  • A confidant who is neutral and non-judgemental, yet understands your experiences and feelings personally.
  • An outlet for your personal problems as well as concerns about your professional life.
  • Time that is all about YOU.
  • The opportunity to do a better job for your patients, because when you clear your mind of tensions and concerns, you will be less distracted, less guarded, and more receptive to and able to help with patient concerns.

Burn Bright, Not Out

Happy pair of counselors at home with their kids.

We are all in the pandemic together, sharing fears and isolation. While that may make it easier to help a patient because you are sharing the experience, it can also make it more frustrating because you cannot comment on said shared experience.

Counselors are needed now more than ever. In March of 2020, the Disaster Distress Helpline saw a 891% increase in call volume as compared to March 2019, which in turn saw a 338% jump from February 2020.

People are scared. People are hurting. People are grieving. As a counselor, you are the soldier and hero coming to their aid. Don’t forget to allow yourself time to heal and be well.