Self-Care Strategies for Counselors: Managing the Weight of Emotional Labor

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As a licensed counselor, your job predominantly revolves around looking after, treating, and caring for others. Depending on the level of care you are providing, this can be a significant emotional burden. Being exposed to the trauma that your patients have experienced in their lives can lead you to take on the psychological impacts of this trauma yourself. 

As such, it is important to make sure you, as the carer, don’t burn out. But, how do you look after yourself when you are busy caring for your patients? Our guide to self-care strategies for counselors holds the key. 

Emotional Labor: What Is It, Exactly?

Being a counselor can be stressful. If you are a mental healthcare professional, you are likely performing a great deal of emotional labor in processing and helping your patients deal with their trauma. So, what is emotional labor, and what are its effects on the individual performing it?

One of the most common effects of emotional labor that is experienced by many counselors can be referred to as vicarious traumatization. Also known as compassion fatigue, or secondary traumatic stress, this can be hard to avoid — especially if the mental healthcare professional is delivering psychotherapy treatment to their patients. 

Importantly, no matter how well-trained or qualified you are as a counselor, when treating patients who have experienced heavy trauma, you are likely to be mentally impacted as the receiver of this information. As a result, you may experience second-hand trauma, and even, develop similar psychiatric symptoms to those your patient may be experiencing. These symptoms can include distress, intrusive thoughts, and maladaptive behaviors and coping mechanisms. 

Ultimately, performing emotional labor as a therapist can lead to emotional exhaustion, stress, and burnout. This is why it is essential to develop self-care strategies. 

Caring for the Care-Giver: How Can I Look After Myself as a Mental Healthcare Professional?

Looking after your mental health is especially important when you are providing psychiatric care to others. It is essential to take time out for yourself and engage in stress reduction strategies, to make sure you stay afloat. 

Here are some of the top self-care tips for therapists

Nurturing Your Inner Self: Spend Your Downtime Doing Things You Love

Life is all about balance. And, when life gets stressful, it’s crucial to balance that out by doing what you love in your downtime. You may like to learn a calming hobby like painting, cooking, or dabbling in arts and crafts. Going for a walk in nature can also do wonders for the soul. Whatever makes you feel happy, content, and at peace. 

Keeping Your Body Active: Make Sure to Get Some Exercise

Physical exercise is central to a peaceful state of mind. Studies have shown that exercising regularly can help to boost happiness-inducing serotonin and endorphins in the body. It doesn’t have to be anything too drastic! You could join a local fitness class at your gym, or even sign up for a yoga or pilates class. Anything to get your body moving and the blood flowing!

Getting Your Rest: Are You Taking Breaks Frequently Enough?

Just as important as staying active, is ensuring that you are getting enough rest. Charging your mental and social batteries is essential, especially in a client-facing profession such as counseling. If your annual leave allows, try to book yourself a relaxing holiday. The break will do you wonders. 

Showing Love to Your Loved Ones: Take Time to Nurture Your Relationships

Taking the time to nurture relationships with those close to you is also vital. Make the effort to spend quality time with your family and friends, and to open up to them emotionally. There’s no shame in leaning on your loved ones for support during hard times. Chances are, they’ll need you to return the favor at some point too. 

Managing the weight of emotional labor is perhaps the biggest challenge you will face as a counselor. Delivering psychiatric care to mentally unwell patients can be stressful, especially when they are sharing the details of their trauma with you.

So, to ensure you stay well, engaging in self-care will help immensely. Armed with these self-care strategies for counselors, you can show up as your best self, and deliver the best possible care to your patients. 

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I'm Alice and I live with a dizzying assortment of invisible disabilities, including ADHD and fibromyalgia. I write to raise awareness and end the stigma surrounding mental and chronic illnesses of all kinds. 

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