How Do Counselors Handle The Emotional Stress Of Their Job?

"I'm interested in going into the counseling field but I am worried about the emotional demands of the job. Will I be able to go home without thinking about and worrying about my clients? How does a counselor deal with the emotional stress of the job?"

asked by Susan from Albany, NY

Counseling does demand a high degree of emotional investment. You have the choice to remain emotionally detached from your clients, but your lack of attachment will manifest in your sessions. The client will sense that you do not truly empathize or care. In order to be a good counselor, you need to show genuine empathy and concern for your client.

You need to care about them and hold them in positive regard. You cannot do this unless you are emotionally attached to some extent. You want to be attached to the depth necessary, but not so attached that you feel an unnecessary burden of responsibility for their problems. You are not God. You must recognize your role in their life. There must be a balance in your level of attachment.

One of the keys to being an effective counselor is the ability to not be sucked into their subjective world.

For instance, spending time with a very depressed client who sees the glass half empty all the time may have the power to convince you that their life really is that horrible. If you believe their life is hopeless, who will offer them hope? You must maintain a sense of objectivity while also empathizing with their subjective experience. The key is to enter their subjective world only to the depth necessary to empathize and then be able to become objective again by having a perspective outside of their perspective.

Many people say they could not be a counselor because they would think/worry about their clients when they went home. Many counselors think they are good at turning off their minds when they leave work, but are they really? It is hard not to think about a client who is suicidal and wonder if they will return to their next session.

When you are lying in bed at night, it’s difficult not to contemplate your client’s problems and attempt to think of solutions or helpful advice. Your personality will play a big part in your ability to do this.

Being a counselor can be a bit like walking a tight rope. You need to strike the right balance between empathy and objectivity. You need the ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Stress can have a dramatic impact on your health. It’s important to consult with other counselors when struggling in this area and to feed yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually to prevent burnout or harm to your physical well-being. Do things that you enjoy when you are away from the office. Take time for relaxation. Consider seeing your own counselor to discuss your stress at work. All in all, make sure to take care of yourself as much as or more than you take care of your clients.

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