Tips to avoid burnout as a counselor
Supporting clients through their problems is a gratifying career, but it can sometimes be draining. If stress levels are persistently high, they can lead to burnout – physical and mental exhaustion. Burnout cannot be ignored and needs to be addressed as quickly as possible to avoid long-term issues. Symptoms of burnout include:
Factors that can contribute to burnout for counselors include:
Although counseling can be demanding, as a therapist, you experience tremendous job satisfaction knowing that you make a positive difference in people’s lives daily. If you are thinking of progressing your career in therapy further, an online Master’s in Counseling, such as the program from Walsh University, offers a highly flexible learning experience and equips you with some essential self-care strategies. With five intakes per year and all coursework delivered online, you can fit this course around your existing work and responsibilities.
Read on to learn about ways to set yourself up to succeed throughout your studies and future career as a counselor.
Set realistic goals for what you can achieve during work hours. Review your schedule regularly and make sure it is manageable. If it is becoming chaotic, it’s time to revisit it and make some adjustments. Be realistic about the amount of time needed to complete tasks, particularly administrative work, which can be easily underestimated. Then, prioritize carefully so that the truly important tasks are completed first. Be disciplined in limiting the number of sessions you provide per week. Check your diary weekly to make sure you have not allowed more sessions to creep in.
Reach out for help as soon as you need it, not when things get to a crisis point. Counselors can be their own worst enemies, believing they should know best how to manage stress and burnout alone. The reality is that even experts in the field may need support from time to time. There is no shame in seeking help, and counselors, of all people, should be very aware of this. Whether you need to reduce your workload by handing work over to colleagues or need to alter the type of work you are doing, there will be ways to eliminate some of the stressors in your work life.
Get support from peers
Working as a therapist can be emotionally exhausting because you are processing other people’s issues and traumas all day. Added to that, the need for client confidentiality means you cannot go home and share the details of your day with loved ones. Peer support groups can offer a helpful place to connect with other therapists and discuss any pressures you feel without going into any specifics.
Set clear policies and boundaries
It is important that you set clear boundaries for when and how clients can contact you between sessions. You should also be clear on when and how they can expect you to respond. Policies for payment and cancellations should be clearly communicated to avoid misunderstandings or disputes.
Use breaks wisely
When you have a few minutes to take a break, resist the temptation to immediately reach for your cell phone. Instead, do some stretches, fit in a mini meditation, or get outside to enjoy some fresh air.
It is important to keep distinct barriers between your work and home life. If you are based in an office or therapy practice, use your commute to unwind and switch off from work. You can even create an imaginary boundary at a certain point in your journey, with work on one side and your home life on the other. Don’t allow your mind to bring your work beyond the boundary.
If you are providing therapy sessions from your own home, keep your work confined to one room in your house. This allows you to close the door and symbolically create a boundary between the rest of your life and your work life.
Make time for friends and family.
Taking time out to relax with loved ones is vital for your well-being. It is important to nurture those relationships, which can quickly become neglected during stressful times.
A well-balanced diet, with plenty of fruits and vegetables, can help to reduce stress. Whenever possible, eat meals at a table without distractions, and avoid working while you eat. Consider seeking advice from a dietician and checking whether you need nutritional supplements.
If you don’t already have a regular exercise routine, now is the time to start. Exercise can give a massive boost to our feeling of well-being. In addition to the sense of achievement in completing a workout, challenging walk, or run, we get a boost to our endorphin levels when we exercise. If you can exercise outside, that’s even better. We are familiar with the many benefits of time spent outdoors, including allowing our skin to enjoy some Vitamin D and enhancing our immune system.
Sleep deprivation can be a significant stressor and needs to be addressed as a priority to avoid burnout. A regular bedtime routine, avoiding sleep-disruptive factors such as blue light from electronic screens or caffeine, can help to improve your sleep. However, if these simple measures fail, it is time to get professional help before insomnia becomes ingrained.
Deal with health issues
If you have health concerns, don’t ignore them. Seek professional help promptly and follow through on a treatment plan and therapies. People suffering from burnout find it harder to take care of themselves, so health issues can become a vicious circle. If you are experiencing more frequent illnesses and it takes longer to recover, this indicates you have a weakened immune system.