Being a counselor is an incredible calling. Counselors walk alongside individuals as they heal from trauma, reconcile with others, and build healthy relationships. However, working in the field of counseling comes with a cost. Hearing people’s troubles and conflicts every day can become weighty even for those with a masters in mental health. For many in the field, they struggle to fight burnout.
So what can be done? According to Dr. Jenny Preffer, a professor in Grace College’s online masters in clinical mental health counseling program, as well as Tracy LeGrow and Kenisha Smith, students pursuing a masters in mental health, there are some key things every counselor should try to do in order to protect their own wellness. After all, a healthy counselor is the most effective counselor.
1. Set Good Boundaries
Dr. Preffer believes that the number one rule of healthy counseling is to set good boundaries. Those pursuing a masters in mental health need to consider the importance of boundaries early on. Counselors should practice setting boundaries not only with clients, but also at work and with personal relationships.
Preffer recommends counselors periodically read the book “Boundaries: When to Say Yes and How to Say No.” According to the book, “having clear boundaries is essential to a healthy, balanced lifestyle.”
“I read it yearly as part of my own mental health routine,”says Preffer. Counselors should use resources like this as a reminder to create healthy boundaries, practice saying “no,” and giving the best to what they have said “yes” to.
2. Find a Balance
Finding a manageable balance is an important aspect of being a great counselor. Dr. Preffer tells all of her students to practice balancing personal and professional life in a way that is truly sustainable.
Finding balance could mean scheduling a time to end the day in journaling before heading home, planning a vacation or weekend away, making it a priority to eat dinner each night with family, or even just prioritizing some time alone in the morning in quiet prayer. For online counseling student Kenisha Smith, it could be unwinding with a favorite show.
“It is crucial that people in the helping profession take a break from reality,” Smith shares. “I have worked in mental health for over ten years and even watching a television show that deals with ’heavy’ topics can be too much. So, I like to turn the heaviness off with some sci-fi shows like Stranger Things or The Walking Dead or engage in some relaxation activities, which includes unplugging from the phone and social media.”
3. Find Good Supervision and/or Consultation
It is important that newer counselors, even those with a masters in mental health, to find and work with a more experienced counselor, aka a “supervisor” who provides training, assistance, and oversight.
“This help is so good for new counselors,” says Dr. Preffer. “Supervisors help new counselors work through challenges. It is helpful for these new counselors to see new or different ways to work with individual clients.”
More seasoned counselors will benefit from consultation, a group of counselor friends where the group members can be honest and transparent. “It’s important to have a space where they can talk about clients and get some other perspectives,” says Dr. Preffer. “They can share their own reactions to clients and get support, or just create a place to talk about the work of being a counselor and the needs for boundaries and balance.”
4. Prioritize Self-Care
It can be tricky to make time for it, but self-care is an important aspect to becoming a well-balanced, healthy counselor.
“I believe that the number one thing counselors can do for their own mental health is make their own self-care a priority,” shares Tracy LeGrow, online masters in clinical mental health counseling student. “We work in a high burn-out environment, so if you want to have longevity, you must take care of yourself.”
LeGrow has seen in her own life that when she makes time for the things she loves to do and people she loves to see, she does better work. Tending to her own mental health gives her more to offer.
“You cannot operate out of a mental, emotional, or spiritual deficit,” she says. “Making time to feed your soul is crucial.”
Looking for more ways to better yourself as a counselor? Furthering your education with a masters in mental health could be transformational for you in your work! Learn more about Grace College Online’s unique online masters in clinical mental health counseling degree!
Dr. Jenny Preffer, Professor of Clinical Mental Health Counseling