When Should Counselors Ask for Help?

When Should Counselors Ask for Help?

We All Need Help from Time to Time.

Once upon a time I worked at an eating disorder treatment facility. It was phenomenal. The experience was relatively new for me; I had only been working with eating disorders for a few years. There were many perks to working at a comprehensive treatment facility but just to name two – first, and foremost, I really had the chance to understand the etiology of the eating disorder and how it manifested in each client. The second, was the food.  It was not uncommon for us to eat with the clients as a means to observe, intervene, and model healthy eating habits. As a school broke counselor, I appreciated eating restaurant quality food instead of my usual ramen noodles.

During my doctoral training, I remained at the eating disorder treatment facility. It was then that I started to notice something peculiar among the staff. I began to notice microwavable diet meals in the fridge and freezer in the clinician’s office. I started to ask around because it was curious to me that we had this quality food to choose from, and yet, here people were, choosing diet foods. It turns out that for many of the newer staff,  staff who once dealt with body image issues, and even seasoned clinicians, struggled to eat the meals regularly. But this didn’t happen all at once. Originally, each of them were able to eat the delicious food the treatment center provided. However, over time, and especially when the caseload was full of clients actively engaging in their eating disorders, it became too much for some of the helpers. They also reported occasionally pinching their waists, triple checking mirrors, and body scanning. It was then that I realized vicarious trauma could happen to mental health professionals too. At the time, only firefighters and first responders were known to have experienced compassion fatigue. This is when I became curious as to who helps the healers and at what point do the healers ask for help.

We as counselors, therapists, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists – healers… We came into this field because of our genuine interest in helping others find balance in life, suffer less, and problem solve more efficiently. Our tools are our minds and our hearts. We bear witness to human suffering day in and day out, and each day we maintain hope for every personal story we hear. Healers are asked to check their own personal issues at the door and be present with each and every client. For many of us, this diligent kind of undertaking causes emotional and mental “spillage” from time to time. Burnout is high in all of the mental health fields, and I am here to help. By going to counseling, mental health professionals strengthen their resilience and ability to create mental space for their clients, while simultaneously decreasing the likelihood of counter-transference, burnout, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma. Mental health professionals are humans, too. We are talented in our ability to provide an immense amount of empathy; however, we sometimes struggle in providing ourselves the same courtesy.

But when should we ask for help?

According to the ACA Code of Ethics, there are several pitfalls we need to be aware of in order to prevent any ethical violation or harm to clients. In Counseling Today, the author mentions several roadblocks to wellness which prevents counselors from being the best versions of themselves.

Maybe you are wondering the same thing. Here are a few questions for you to do a professional check-in:

  • I have had regular, restful sleep most nights this week? Two weeks? One month?
  • I have healthy supportive relationships outside of work?
  • I have healthy, appropriate, and supportive conversations about work with colleagues and staff?
  • I am able to leave “work” at work?
  • I make sure I eat regular meals throughout the day on the days I work?
  • I am able to talk to about work-related traumas with a designated internal counselor or supervisor?

Did you answer yes to any of these? Most of these? It is of no surprise how counselors are so very GOOD at quickly identifying strengths, hiccups, and resilience in their clients, but because of their keen focus on helping others, they struggle to know when their own mental health is suffering. Your responses may very well surprise you, or maybe not. But what is stopping you from seeking help? If you feel any of this burden, what would it hurt to ask for help? The time is now. Not afterwards. Not after you are so burnt out that you are considering a new position or after you missed the opportunity to assess suicide ideation in a client.

If you had the chance to see clients before they hit “rock bottom”, wouldn’t you say that they were far more likely to be successful?! Why not do the same for yourself. Even if it is for a check-in.

As a recent transplant to Colorado, I am pleased and honored to offer a safe space to mental health professionals of all kinds. As a person who drove two hours for my own counseling, I am here to offer a closer opportunity for healers in need. I have provided counseling to other mental health professionals for several years, and believe I can be a place of refuge and respite for the mental health professionals in the Colorado area.

For more information about Dr. Schubert and her counseling and consultation services, please contact her at 720-923-2323 or email her at aschubert@brightsidecounseling.net.