Sunday, November 28, 2010

Play and Laugh

Infuse a sense of play into your life. Laughter heals. A sense of play can help you and your clients remember that life need not always be so serious. What about bringing in a Magic 8 Ball to work – even if only to the breakroom for you and your colleagues. I have a playful little wire figure of a girl sticking out her tongue that reminds me that humor is healing. Clients love this little figure and have commented that her silly irreverence inspires them to speak their mind and see the humor in situations. I love to laugh. I’ve attended a few laughter yoga classes – and had an absolutely fabulous time! Even if you cannot find a laughter yoga class in your area, you can make up your own “laughter practice.” It’s a whole lot of fun in groups, so gather some people together and start by making big bellied “Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha” sounds. Maybe bounce up and down as you do it – or make some other physical motions that feel entertaining at the moment. Start making up different laughter sounds and doing them in unison: the snort laugh, the high pitched squeal laugh, the deep voice laugh, anything that comes to mind. If this sounds ridiculous, that’s because it IS ridiculous! That’s the point! Soon, you’ll be laughing for real and having a ton of fun. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Why is it important that counselors take care of themselves?

Everyone deserves good care, and counselors are included in that “everyone.” We are entitled to the same riches of health, joy, peace, connection, and opportunity that we wish for our clients and the communities we serve.

Additionally, counseling is a profession dependent upon our ability to be authentic and attune empathically, as it is through this process of careful attunement that healing and growth occur. Research consistently demonstrates that the quality of the therapeutic relationship is more predictive of counseling outcome than any other factor. Since the self of the counselor is an essential component of effective counseling, it is vital that we nourish our own wellness. When we are well, we are better able to connect with our clients, more attentive and creative in our work, and less likely to make clinical errors or violate boundaries. We are instruments of healing. If we don’t keep our own instrument tuned, we won’t be useful in promoting wellness in others. The airplane metaphor holds true here: If we don’t put our own oxygen masks on first, we won’t be able to care for anyone else.

We also serve as role models for our clients. We, therefore, need to be aware of the messages we teach clients when we honor boundaries or neglect to set them, when we take a day off to nurture our health or come into work sick, or when we model joy and curiosity or unintentionally share the flat affect of our unresolved grief or depression. Take excellent care of yourself! When you do, you contribute exponentially to the joy in the world!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Challenges to Counselor Wellness

There are many challenges to maintaining counselor wellness, and many of these stem from the nature of the work itself. Thomas Skovholt, author of The Resilient Practitioner, describes the “Caring Cycle” in which counselors repeatedly connect to clients through empathy, become actively involved with them, and then ultimately disengage as clients leave therapy (after the work is done and also when counseling work ends prematurely for a variety of reasons). Over the course of months, years, and a career, this caring cycle can take a toll an emotional toll on counselors.  Empathy is the foundation for and an absolutely critical component of all effective counseling work. It is also the conduit through which the pain of the client impacts the self of the counselor.  While vital, being emotionally attuned and available to clients increases our vulnerability in the work. And, yet, we cannot be effective in our work if we are not emotionally attuned and available. Within the counseling relationship and within the moment-by-moment interplay of each session, this is the ultimate balancing act – finding ways to stay attuned to clients while maintaining a strong and deep connection with our own experience.

It is important for counselors to understand that there are risk factors inherent in the work and that noticing signs of stress or distress is a sign of health not impairment. None of us are immune to the effects of the work. When counselors can view their emotional responses to their work as an expected part of empathic engagement (rather than something they are doing wrong), they are more likely to seek support, talk about stress with colleagues, and engage in self-care practices to support their overall wellness.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I love Thanksgiving. How wonderful that we devote a day to enjoying the company of those we love and to expressing gratitude for one another and our many blessings.  Our wellbeing is nourished when we savor the bounty of the holiday meal we are enjoying and give thanks for the earth that produced it and the love that went into its preparation.  It feels good to share our thankfulness with one another – and for one another.

Tapping into and expressing our gratitude is a practice that sustains us in our work as well.  As counselors, we are incredibly privileged to do such meaningful work, to witness the resiliency of the human spirit to prevail under adversity, to share in the hope, dreams, and healing of those with whom we work. While our work involves empathic connection with pain and suffering, it also involves connection to courage and joy. Remembering the stories of triumph – especially in darker moments when the work is hard and the overcoming seems implausible – can help us sustain hope and tap into gratitude for the healing possible in the counseling process.

Today, and every day, I am incredibly thankful for the women, men, and children who have given me the honor of traveling with them on their journeys to healing.  Their courage and faith, perseverance and wisdom have inspired me and deeply enriched my life. I am also very thankful for my many teachers, the elders who have traveled before me, my phenomenal support community, and those who have nurtured me on my own healing journey.

Spending time with family today, I fill with happiness as I share laughter and hugs with the children in my life.  This morning, after running to the store for a few last minute items, I saw a family of five deer run through the neighborhood towards the woods. It was sweet and magnificent. As the snow falls lightly outside now, I am filled with gratitude for the beauty of the natural world and the changing of the seasons.

Allowing myself to turn my attention to the many blessings in my life, I am filled with joy.  Today, and every day, I wish you the joy and healing power of gratitude. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Prioritize What is Essential

It is helpful to practice sorting our “to do lists” into the truly essential tasks and those that are nonessential, in order to carve out more time to care for ourselves, unwind, and spend enjoyable time with people we love. A counselor in one of my consultation groups recently told a story in which she was growing resentful of her husband and his ability to relax on his days off. In an argument with him, she had stated emphatically, “There are no days off in this household!” While believing this assertion wholeheartedly as she was expressing it to him, she had to laugh at herself as she was recounting the story aloud in our group. She realized it wasn’t okay with her for him to have a “day off” because she had never considered the possibility that she, too, might be entitled to regular down time. We explored the undercurrent of beliefs that drive so many of us to push hard without resting, to put others before ourselves, and to deny our basic needs for rest, nourishment, and pleasure. Yes, some of the tasks of work and parenting and taking care of a home are essential, but some are not. Counselor wellness is sustained when we take an ongoing inventory of what’s truly important and make sure we’ve made ourselves a high priority on our running “list” of things requiring care.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Join me in making the wellness of our counseling community a top priority!

Each one of us is unique. We have our own vulnerabilities to the work, and our favorite strategies to promote our wellness will vary. To begin the dialogue about wellness, let me share that I LOVE getting a massage, enjoy painting and drumming, receive acupuncture regularly, value the support of my professional colleagues at The Resiliency Center (, love hiking and time outdoors, and cherish the support of friends and family. One of my favorite activities to promote wellness is laughter. Laugher is my medicine. I love spending time laughing with my favorite people in the world. What a joy!

I look forward to hearing from each of you about what challenges your wellness and what practices you've found most helpful in sustaining energy and enthusiasm for the work. Please share your questions, comments, favorite self-care strategies, and stories of healing. Thanks!

Wishing you peace, joy, and resiliency!