As a counselor, you are your most important tool, and you need to keep yourself sharp. Maintaining balance in all life areas during graduate school will serve as valuable practice and help you maintain balance in the future as you become a professional counselor (see chapter 5 for more information on self-reflection and life balance). Just as you have committed to graduate school, you must also make a commitment to self-care and wellbeing. Self-care activities (i.e., those that promote wellbeing) are crucial components that must be integrated into your daily life and are a must in preventing burnout and impairment. These activities can attend to basic needs, such as ensuring proper nutrition and getting adequate sleep, and can also incorporate more specific strategies aimed at stress-reduction, such as receiving individual counseling. Engaging in leisure activities and hobbies is an important component of self-care. Because many graduate students are challenged with balancing several different time-consuming roles, some may find it helpful to schedule self-care time in their planners or calendars. See Box 8.3 for more self-care suggestions.
Building and enhancing social supports can also be a powerful tool in promoting well-being. You may find spending time with family members and friends to be an important piece in balancing work and school demands. Developing relationships with your academic peers and engaging in mentoring relationships can provide opportunities to discuss strategies for self-care and overcoming challenges to implementation; it can also be valuable in monitoring your well-being. As counselors, we are often quick to recommend self-care and coping strategies to our clients, but we may not be as adept at engaging in these practices ourselves. Exploring and practicing different self-care and coping strategies can provide a deeper understanding of the struggles and growth that our clients go through and can also enhance our abilities to be well-balanced and informed counselors.
One final note about self-care: Please remember that counselors-in- training and seasoned professional counselors are not immune to experiencing problems of daily living. Training as a counselor does not mean that we cannot experience these issues ourselves, much like how an oncologist
SELF-CARE IN GRADUATE SCHOOL: VOICES FROM THE CLASSROOM
“When I was a graduate student, I quickly learned I had to have at least one self-care day every week. I would pick one day a week and make sure I scheduled time with my family and friends, went to yoga, and put the books away” “For me, I found that brief self-care breaks fit best with my busy work schedule. I actually use a planner to set aside time for myself every day. Taking a 15-minute walk or eating lunch outside with a colleague are simple activities that help me feel balanced throughout the day”
“In terms of self-care, I learned I had to turn my computer off at 8 p.m. each night. Otherwise, I'd work until midnight and wind up feeling mentally exhausted the next day. You have to learn to set personal boundaries around your work if you are going to hang in there.”
“I started to practice meditation for a wellness project during the first semester of my graduate counseling program, and it has become my most valued form of self-care. Meditation is a part of my morning routine, and it allows me to start off each day feeling centered and refreshed.”
“Working while taking graduate courses can be stressful and requires a lot of energy. It didn't take long for me to realize that I really needed to be intentional about my diet, exercise, and sleep habits to stay physically well. One thing I do is, every night before bed, watch a television show.”
“Implementing self-care strategies was initially a challenging task for me, so several of my classmates and I planned a self-care night each week. Involving my peers made it a lot easier for me to begin practicing self-care strategies and developing a weekly routine.”
trained in the treatment of cancer is still susceptible to developing the disease. If we are not taking care of ourselves, our treatment of others can suffer. You should practice and maintain awareness of your emotions, engage in self-care regularly, and be willing to ask for help from others when needed.