For obvious reasons, the field of counseling has a high rate of burnout. It can be emotionally exhausting to sit and listen to people’s traumas all day long. But by taking care of themselves and following best practices in their work with clients, therapists can avoid bringing home their clients’ problems — which can mean the difference between practicing for a few years and having a long and rewarding career. Here are tips on how counselors can take of themselves from the accredited Master of Arts in Counseling program from St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas.
Make self-care a priority, starting today.
The best way to avoid burnout is to be aware it’s a possibility. Don’t wait until you’re exhausted by your work to take a break. Even in practicum courses, student counselors can get into a habit of putting others’ needs ahead of their own, which can lead quickly to being overwhelmed. There’s a natural urge to help others and to put oneself lower in importance. It’s a risk for all counselors.
Maintain a relationship with your own therapist.
Many people come into therapy because they’ve had horrific experiences or devastating losses. And the therapist’s nervous system, and his or her psyche, is going to be affected by hearing the stories recounted to them, which sometimes are very hard to listen to. Some counseling professors at St. Edward’s recommend that counselors maintain a therapist of their own to be a better therapist for other people.
Understand the difference between empathy and compassion.
To avoid secondary trauma from hearing about clients’ traumas, counselors need to employ both empathy and compassion during a session. Empathy is the capacity to feel very close to what a client feels so the client is not alone in re-experiencing what he or she has been through. But feeling all of that pain leaves the therapist vulnerable.
Counselors can balance empathy with compassion, which comes from the cognitive part of the brain, where the counselor’s knowledge of clinical theory lives. The reason the role of therapist is a tough one is you have to hold both of those places – and that’s not necessarily an automatic skill. That’s, in part, what students learn from a graduate counseling program.
The Master of Arts in Counseling at St. Edward’s University helps students gain a deeper understanding of what drives peoples’ behavior through an experiential curriculum, accomplished faculty and innovative electives. This degree program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Relation Educational Programs (CACREP).
Robyn Ross is a freelance writer.