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Managing Stress for Counsellors

Stress is an inherent part of the human experience, and as counsellors, you are acutely aware of its impact on clients.

Stress is an inherent part of the human experience, and as counsellors, you are acutely aware of its impact on clients. But it’s also important to be mindful of your own stress levels as the practitioner. Otherwise, chronic and unmanaged stress can have detrimental effects on your health and service to your clients. We’ll explore what conditions can arise from accumulated stress and effective techniques to mitigate such challenges.

The nature of counselling work can create significant pressure to deliver a quality service. Being exposed to high workloads and intense cases can lead to conditions such as compassion fatigue, burnout and vicarious trauma. Some of the signs that you may be experiencing unmanaged stress can be related to workplace behaviours, attitudes and beliefs, and interpersonal relationships.

Behavioural signs

Irritability, exhaustion or fatigue, sleep disturbances, appetite changes, and negative coping like smoking or drinking. 

Attitudes and Beliefs

Feelings of dissatisfaction or guilt, loss of interest, diminishing empathy, a sense of hopelessness, self-doubt, and detachment.

Interpersonal relationships

Withdrawing or isolating from colleagues, blaming others, feeling impatient during interactions, and having a sense of loneliness,

To effectively navigate through these challenges, it’s important to understand the protective factors. Some include seeking regular supervision, sharing problems with friends, and spending time with family. Allocate protected time for your interests and hobbies as well. And regardless if you’re religious, spend time on your spiritual well-being. This includes meditation, mindfulness, or being in nature. The American Counselling Association (ACA) also advised a preventative intervention called ABC – Awareness, Balance, and Connection. They highlighted some tips to build mental health resilience, such as monitoring your eating, sleeping, and exercising habits. It is also essential to set clear professional and personal boundaries, finding a balance between work, home, and self.

Other techniques to help manage stress more effectively include:

Seeking out your own counsellor

Seek professional guidance, just like your clients! Consider finding a therapist or counsellor to explore your own emotions and receive support.

Crisis planning

Develop a crisis management plan for yourself. By identifying when it is appropriate to seek help, you’re better equipped to handle challenging or triggering situations.

Staying organised

Good organisational skills can help reduce stress. Keep clear case notes and an orderly schedule so that you’ll be in a better position to tackle difficult and complex cases.

Taking regular breaks

Even brief moments of relaxation can alleviate stress. Make sure you have small blocks to step away from work mentally and physically. This can include leaving the office for lunch, stretching now and then, or grabbing a snack to break the routine.

Although stress is an inevitable part of the counselling profession, it does not have to be debilitating. Check in periodically and be mindful of your mental well-being. Remember, taking care of yourself is not just for your benefit, but also enables you to provide the best possible care for your clients.