Why is self care for counsellors important?
Self care for counsellors is vital. It helps them to
- Be more compassionate towards their clients because they are less stressed
- Meet their own needs outside the therapeutic relationship, meaning they don’t use client work for this purpose
- Let go of difficult or distressing client trauma
The Challenge of Self Care during the Pandemic
Counsellors are handling all the extra demands of the pandemic – such as shielding, teaching their children at home, caring for elderly relatives – at the same time as supporting their clients who are going through the same process. Not only that, but they’ve also had to learn how to offer therapy remotely.
At a time when self-care is needed more than ever, many of the activities are even more difficult to access. For example:
- Social connections with family and friends
- Creating space between work and home life
- External activities such as exercise venues, clubs and holidays
So how can counsellors exercise self care at the moment?
Self-Care: Let Go of the Shoulds
One of my favourite quotes recently is
This is a pandemic. It’s not a productivity contest
Let’s face it, as counsellors we all know the importance of self-care. It can so easily become another stick with which to beat ourselves. But that’s not the way it works.
If you’re forcing yourself to do something, it becomes something else on your “to do” list. And you’re tired enough already.
Do take a look at the work of Paul Gilbert who explains there are three emotional regulation systems, as follows:
- Threat (or fear)
- Drive (or doing)
- Soothing (slowing down)
The first two are based around your sympathetic nervous system where you produce adrenaline.
The soothing system is based in your parasympathetic nervous system. This means relaxing! And when you’re in this system you’re producing:
- endorphins that make you feel good, and
- oxytocin that help you to feel loved and loving.
For your self-care, find the things that help you to be in your soothing system.
So ask yourself, what do you find soothing?
It is different for all of us. The trick is to find what suits you.
So it’s not about baking or bubble baths. Nor is it about knitting or Netflix. It’s about you finding what helps you to relax, to “potter”. What is that for you?
If you’re someone who feels lonely in the counselling profession, contact with your fellow therapists can be a lifeline. I run supportive group coaching via the Therapy Growth Group which you can read about here.
Contact me for more information
Self-Care: Use Self-Compassion
The most important thing to remember is that you haven’t chosen this situation – nor have you chosen to be here, to be human, to be in this place of suffering.
It’s not your fault.
Whatever is happening, whatever you have going on around you, remember to err is human. That’s the way we all are. As a gentle, living, warm mammal you deserve kindness.
This is where it all starts.
If you’re suffering at the moment – perhaps you’re feeling overwhelmed with fear, self-reproach, or too much to do – these two exercises may help.
Place your hand on your heart.
- Notice your feelings. Tell yourself “This is a moment of suffering”. Or you may like to acknowledge “ouch!” “this hurts” or “this is stress”.
- Remind yourself that suffering is part of life. This may include telling yourself “I’m not alone”, “0ther people feel this way”, or “we all struggle with life”
- Ask what you need and remind yourself to be kind to you. This can be verbalised with words such as “may I accept myself”, “may I forgive myself” “may I be patient”, “may I be strong”
Use the Metta Prayer
This is an ancient prayer that can be directed to oneself, to loved ones, and to those who are disliked. There are many versions but simply put, you can say:
- may I be safe
- may I be happy
- may I be well
- may I be peaceful
It can be hard to start with “I”, particularly if you’re self-critical. Instead, imagine someone you really care about and say it for them:
- may you be safe
- may you be happy
- may you be well
- may you be peaceful
This may help you to access your soothing, caring system and you then may be able to say it to yourself. It can be particularly helpful when you’re feeling flooded with fear and anxiety.
Look After Yourself
Remember, you’re not a machine. You’re a human. As Nayyirah Waheed says:
Be softer with you. You are a breathing thing. A memory to someone. A home to a life.
The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this article are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article. Josephine disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article.