Counselor wellness is the positive state of health that allows a counselor to avoid burnout and overwhelming stress in the profession. This state, in turn, contributes to client outcomes because reducing burnout will result in an increased ability to care for the needs of others within the caring cycle, as well as increase the level of empathy displayed (Roach & Young, 2007). Although recent efforts to reduce stress among counselors is promising, the key to successful outcomes is prevention and self-understanding. Each counselor should develop personal awareness, which is the recognition of one’s strengths and limitations. In addition, self-assessments help to identify the time devoted to various priorities and activities. Steps should be taken to recognize areas of imbalance in these priorities and make adjustments when individual resources are overtaxed (Roach & Young, 2007). Developing an action plan through an approach process, which identifies stressors and possible solutions, will help reduce areas of psychological and emotional exhaustion.
As I completed the assessments, I considered the challenges that I may face in a career as a counselor along with my personal limitations. After completing the Stress Reactions Inventory, it became evident that the behavioral and interpersonal categories are of the greatest concern. I focused on the boxes that I checked across these two categories, which included the following: withdrawn, irritable, intolerance and increased interpersonal conflict. These outcomes reflect my current focus on work and parenting responsibilities, which leaves little time for personal rest, relaxation, or reflection. Thus, I have noticed that I tend to operate in a heightened state, so I am increasingly quick to react to the words of friends and family members and enter into conflict. Of course, this stress reaction eventually increases the overall level of stress, as I begin to worry about the issues I have with others and fail to set aside time for relaxation. On a positive note, the stress reactions that I have described do not appear to impact my cognitive and physical states; therefore, steps need to be taken to minimize stress before the issues infiltrate those domains.
The Self-Care Assessment emphasized possible areas of weakness in the life domains, as well as highlighted areas that I am succeeding in. In particular, my physical self-care was positive with the exclusion of “medical care for prevention”; a step that may reduce my stress level significantly. As I get sick, I become worried about my ability to keep up with all of my responsibilities and I do not get the needed amount of rest. However, the psychological self-care is the most concerning area in this assessment; it appears that I fail to take time away from phones and daily tasks, which limits the time that I spend in self-reflection and focusing on my inner experience. Although these areas are important, they are often overlooked if time is not purposefully set aside. The results of the spiritual and emotional sections were promising, but the workplace self-care is another area that needs frequent monitoring. I have non-confrontational tendencies, so I struggle to decline extra tasks and sometimes fail to set limits with my coworkers, which increases stress levels and the possibility of burnout.
After completing the Self-Care Life Pie Worksheet, I evaluated the balance between various aspects of my daily living. The results indicated that I spend a significant amount of time caring for others in family relationships, working, and completing daily tasks. Since I spend a lot of time focused on these priorities, I am not involved in many personal events or outside activities. Thus, it appears that some areas of my life are lacking the necessary attention, such as my own psychological health, which does not reflect the level of balance that I would desire. It would be beneficial to list my priorities in order and evaluate how these compare with the amount of time devoted in my “Pie of Life”. I may discover an increased ability to take care of others after I focus on my own psychological health.
Finally, completing the Self-Care Social Support Worksheet helped me differentiate between the various types of support and recognize the areas of overlap and lack. For instance, my husband provides support in all four areas except for informational, while many colleagues provide only instrumental support. My supervisors are able to fulfill the needs of informational support. However, since no one else provides this support currently, it may be beneficial to consider the benefits of a pastor or mentor for this domain. I discovered that I am lacking in emotional support; while I have frequent companionship from friends and family members, this does not always provide support for the deeper emotional needs of care, empathy and understanding. Since it appears that I do not have enough people to fulfill this role, I might spend time considering if my current companions could fill both roles, or if I need to include more people in my overall support network.
The results of all four tests certainly paint a complete picture of my overall well-being; these results highlighted three key areas that need more attention. Primarily, I need to focus on my psychological self-care, especially as stress levels increase in the workplace. The tests demonstrated that I have few people in the emotional support area and I struggle to prioritize personal activities and introspection for my psychological health. The result of this imbalance is irritability and withdrawal from others, which only exacerbates the issue. Evidently, I need to focus on achieving balance in my life, as balance increases the ability to respond effectively to work-related stress and prevent burnout in the counseling profession (Roach & Young, 2007). The steps needed to increase my psychological self-care include setting aside pre-determined times for meaningful activities, introspection and personal therapy, as well as seeking social support. Selecting time for introspection may require limiting extra responsibilities and using time management skills to ensure that this self-care time is available. As a person in the caring professions, seeking social support from others will help reduce emotional exhaustion and the feeling of depersonalization (Shin et al., 2014). A critical step to improving this self-care is to identify one or two people in my life that are accepting, empathetic and available to provide needed emotional support.
In addition to psychological self-care, the survey results revealed that I need to focus additional attention on my workplace self-care and habits. I noticed that I struggle to set limits and I rarely decline extra tasks, which frequently leads to overtaxing my resources and capabilities at work. As these factors lead to increased stress levels, they impact my wellness in most of the other domains and settings. Since I attempt to avoid unpleasant tasks and allow colleagues to utilize too many of my resources rather than setting limits, it appears that I am engaging in an avoidance process. This contrasts with an approach process, which would involve attempts to control the situation, offer solutions, and decrease the impact of the stressor. This strategy is linked to reduced burnout in caring professions because it is adaptive to the situation and solution-oriented (Shin et al, 2014). Therefore, I need to identify the most frequent stressors and develop a plan of action to combat them, which will include setting limits on my workload, suggesting an alternative process for completing work, and working efficiently without distraction. These steps will help me improve my workplace self-care and perceptions of my work environment, which is related to a lower frequency of burnout in counselors (Thompson, Amatea & Thompson, 2014). As I communicate my intentions to friends and colleagues, they can act as a support system to implement these changes.
Lastly, it appears that interpersonal issues and conflicts are taxing too many of my emotional resources, which also contributes to a feeling of fatigue in the workplace environment. As a result, I need to refer to the resources of my support network to assist me in reducing these conflicts with family members, which may concurrently reduce the emotional exhaustion that I feel when engaging with others. These steps will include a similar solution-oriented process to the one above; identifying the cause of frequent conflicts and developing a plan to reduce this stressor as much as possible. I will need to conference with the person that I am having conflicts with and discuss the boundaries that are needed to protect my emotional well-being. Evidently, participating in this series of assessments was sobering, as it helped me recognize the imbalance of some critical aspects of self-care in my life. Thankfully, resources are available to help me identify the steps that will increase my psychological self-care, define workplace limits, and reduce interpersonal conflicts.
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- Shin, H., Park, Y. M., Ying, J. Y., Kim, B., Noh, H. & Lee, S. M. (2014). Relationships Between
Coping Strategies and Burnout Symptoms: A Meta-Analytic Approach. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 45(1), 44-56. DOI: 10.1037/a0035220
- Thompson, I., Amatea, E. & Thompson, E. (2014). Personal and Contextual Predictors of Mental
Health Counselors’ Compassion Fatigue and Burnout. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 36(1), 58-77.