Burn out is a serious and growing problem in counselors. Because these professionals are constantly giving to other people, they can quickly find that their own reservoirs run dry. This leaves many counselors suffering with emotional and physical fatigue while also struggling to be present for their clients. In fact, researchers estimate that as many as 67% of mental health professionals suffer from burn out. Here are five ways to avoid the burn out trap.
1. Leave work at work.
Because emergencies do not happen during office hours alone, many counselors are left fielding calls and texts at all hours. Avoid this practice. Set up emergency plans with clients so they know what hotlines to call and how to handle after hours issues without your hand-holding. Ultimately your job is to provide counseling, not to be a 24/7 support.
Similarly, leave paperwork and work-related activities at the office. You need your downtime to relax and refresh yourself so you can be present during work hours.
2. Find ways to fill your bucket.
It takes a great deal of inner strength to help others, and even more fortitude to maintain appropriate boundaries. You need to know how to recharge your batteries and to engage in these activities on a daily basis. Whether you choose time in the outdoors, yoga, meditation, or any other method of refueling your spirit, it is important to schedule daily time to maintain your emotional and spiritual health.
3. Care for your health.
Emotional health is not the only factor in your well-being as a therapist. It is also important to stay physically healthy. Eat healthy foods and drink plenty of water. Get ample sleep, exercise, and time in the fresh air. Avoid drugs, including caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. In other words, take the same advice that you give your clients. It is infinitely harder to be emotionally healthy in a neglected body.
4. Reach out to others.
No person is an island. It can be difficult to manage needy clients, and especially so when added to the challenges of balancing your own life. You should have network of other mental health professionals and colleagues who can help you when you are struggling to deal with professional challenges. Many counselors find that having a mentor in the field helps them to find balance both as a counselor and as a human being. In addition, most counselors benefit from being in counseling themselves. This will help you to decompress in a confidential setting and also to handle any personal challenges that may make your career more difficult.
5. Don’t let your job become your identity.
Most people who become a counselor do so because they have a natural ability to support and help others. However, it is important to have relationships where you function as an equal and not as a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. Build friendships and other relationships where there is give and take, where you are not expected to act as an unpaid professional even in your off time.
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Most counselors have to take proactive steps to avoid burn out. While this can be a difficult balance to achieve, the self care will make you a more fulfilled individual and a more effective counselor to the people who need you.