By Keshia Ross-Williams, LPC, LSATP, CAADC, CCS, CPCS
With February, the month of love, coming to a close, I can imagine many of you have spent countless days focusing on loved ones and may be overdue for some self-care. Self-care is something that I teach, preach, and live by daily. Self-care is the foundational premise that governs my life. However, I have not always been as diligent about focusing on my well-being as I am now. I am what many refer to as a “Type A” personality. Such a description has led to me staying busy every second of the day and avoiding down-time like the plague! Now, I long for down-time and not having anything to do but relax and have fun. Because, contrary to popular belief, doing “nothing” is critical to the way I approach much of the “somethings” in my life.
The most important components of any self-care plan is making sure that we eat right (properly balanced meals throughout the day), exercise, and get adequate rest. These three things are at the core of any good self-care plan, treatment plan, or medical health plan. Specific to counselor educators and students, self-compassion and mindfulness help to prevent burnout, vicarious trauma, and a lack of school-life balance (Dye, Burke, & Wolf, 2019; Nelson, Hall, Anderson, Birtles, & Hemming, 2018). Such practices follow the guidelines set forth by the American Counseling Associations’ (2014) and the National Board for Certified Counselors’ (2016) Code of Ethics. If we do not manage our nutrition, sleep, and activity, many often find themselves in a disadvantaged state, which affects our overall mental health. A well-respected author Prockyk (2018), stated there is no separation from mind and body, for they are forever connected and affect one another, meaning not taking care of the mind affects the body and losing sight of the body will most certainly affect the mind. For many, self-care is the key to maintaining work-life and school-life schedules, and as counselors and counselor educators, self-care prepares us to present our best selves in the work we do.
When most people hear the term self-care, they may think of activities that cost money like getting a massage or going on vacation. Though I like engaging in those types of activities as well, there are many no-cost activities that we all can do to practice self-care. In addition to those mentioned above, taking time to ourselves to self-reflect, engaging in a good book, making sure we take our breaks at work, and spending time with loved ones are just some of the ways to practice mindfulness and self-compassion.
During my search online for self-care inventories, I came across two good ones that helped me examine other aspects of my self-care that I generally do not consider. The inventory published by the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI; 2008) separated self-care into five different categories, including physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and workplace/ professional self-care categories. Using this tool may help you see how you are currently practicing healthy boundaries in various areas of your life.
The second tool is a self-care assessment developed by Irvine (2016). The Self-Care Inventory by Irvine (2016) includes an additional component focusing on supporting relationships, which often play a role in how we perceive and engage in self-care. Moreover, this self-care tool includes a care plan to address deficits uncovered after taking the assessment. Completing this tool helped me to confirm some of the adjustments that I was putting in place to address insufficiencies in the area of supportive relationships and other deficits.
Overall, I would say that my self-care grade is a solid “A,” and I take pride in that now because before, I am convinced I was failing. I want to challenge you to evaluate your self-care score and take some time to make some adjustments. As helpers, counselors, supervisors, and educators, we must take care of ourselves to be effective and prepared to help our supervisees, clients, and students. We must also lead by example and teach the importance of self-care so that we all can be around for a long time to witness the fruit of our labor.
Dye, L., Burke, M. G., & Wolf, C. (2019). Teaching mindfulness for the self-care and well-being of counselors-in-training. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 1-14. doi:10.1080/15401383.2019.1642171
National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI). (2008). Self-care inventory. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/getattachment/Extranet/Education,-Training-and-Outreach-Programs/Signature-Classes/NAMI-Homefront/HF-Additional-Resources/HF15AR6SelfCare.pdf
Nelson, J. R., Hall, B. S., Anderson, J. L., Birtles, C., & Hemming, L. (2018). Self–compassion as self-care: A simple and effective tool for counselor educators and counseling students. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 13(1), 121-133.
Prockyk, A. (2018). Nutritional treatment to improve mental health disorders: Non-Pharmaceutical interventions for depression, anxiety, bipolar & ADHD. Eau Claire, WI: PESI Publishing & Media.
Irvine, D. (2016). Self-Care inventory. Retrieved from https://www.davidirvine.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/selfcareassessment2016.pdf