Thoughts on Burnout and Self-Care

Have you ever noticed as a counsellor/psychotherapist in the caring profession people rarely ask you how you are? And why would they? After all they consider you the expert in Self-Care, helping others to help themselves on a daily basis? The question is, do YOU practice what you preach?

Section 4 of the IACP Code of Ethics states clearly:

Section 4. Integrity
4.1.1. Engage in self-care activities which help to avoid conditions (for example, burnout and addictions) which could result in impaired judgement and interfere with their ability to benefit their clients.
4.1.2. Monitor their own personal functioning and seek help when their personal resources are sufficiently depleted to require such action.

Yet to the best of my knowledge there is no specific self-care module included on any of the training courses in order to qualify as a counsellor. Perhaps the requirement of personal counselling and supervision is considered adequate to cater for your personal needs.

Burnout is a psychological term that refers to long-term emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion and diminished interest in work and life in general. Some symptoms of burnout include feeling tired all or most of the time, feeling helpless and hopeless, lacking interest and motivation, feeling detached, depressed, disengaged, life doesn’t seem worth living, and you may have developed a low immune system. There are a variety of reasons for this too numerous to mention in this brief article.
If you are already burnt out then it is imperative that you take time out from activities and commitments, take time to rest, reflect and heal, talk to a professional and open up to your close friends and/or family.  Give yourself the time and space to reassess your goals, your hopes and your dreams in order to regain balance in your life.

Art and science of self-care article by Dr Phil Robert
It g
oes without saying that as counsellors and psychotherapists we have a duty of care towards our clients. But if we don’t adopt a healthy approach to our own self-care then how can we be of assistance to others? In the same way as it is important for one to place the oxygen mask over one’s own face first should a plane experience difficulties, (and only then should one concern themselves with others’ safety), all counsellors should have a care plan in place which they review regularly.

Just for today I would like you to focus on yourself. How are YOU? How does your life measure up against this checklist for self-care?

Checklist for Self-Care:

  • When did you have a medical/dental check-up?
  • How is your diet?
  • Do you exercise?
  • Do you make time for fun in your life?
  • When was the last time you went to the hair-dresser / barber?
  • When did you last ring / meet up with a friend?
  • What was the last book you read / film you saw?
  • When did you last treat yourself or take time for yourself?
  • When did you last allow yourself to laugh or to cry?
  • When did you last say NO?
  • How often do you spend quality time with your family?

The impact of compassion fatigue on counsellors is attracting increasingly more attention of late and many counsellors are doing extensive research and submitting their findings in the form of theses.  Oksana Lakickas covers this topic most extensively in her recent dissertation submitted to Trinity College entitled 'An Exploration into How Irish Trainee Counsellors Respond to Stress Arising from Their Practice'. Geraldine Kellett a graduate of PCI College wrote her thesis on 'The Impact of Compassion Fatigue on Counsellors'. I have had the privilege of reading both theses and concluded that self-care is a vital component in the life of all health care professionals going forward. For this reason, the chosen theme of the forthcoming National Conference organised by PCI College is very timely.

Hopefully this article has given you food for thought. I am looking forward to exploring this most important topic further from the counsellor’s/psychotherapist’s perspective on a personal level at the National Counselling & Psychotherapy Conference 'The Art & Science of Self-Care; helping ourselves, helping others' in the Gibson Hotel Dublin on 28th June 2014. I hope to see you there.

Dr. Phil Robert MIACP
Counsellor and Psychotherapist
Director of Burke Robert Publishing Ltd.
Co-Author of Empower Yourself Series endorsed by Mental Health Ireland

There are a limited number of places still available for the National Counselling & Psychotherapy Conference on Saturday 28th June.  Click here for full details and to book your place.

Course Venues:   Athlone   |   Belfast   |   Carrick-on-Shannon   |   Cork   |   Dublin   |   Kilkenny   |   Limerick