“You’re such a good listener!”
“I need someone to talk to.”
“I can’t afford a counselor, so you will do.”
Have you ever heard any of these phrases before? Chances are if you are a counselor or just a good listener, you have. I am a middle school counselor and I love my job. Sometimes it’s easy to get sucked into counseling off the clock.
The danger in this is that everyone needs a chance to recharge. Jobs that require a strong mental/emotional health are often overlooked because they don’t “look” tired. Here’s how you can manage your own mental health:
Stop Counseling Your Family & Friends
I can’t tell you how many times my family has bragged about having a counselor in the family, only to use me for counseling in the next breath. The problem with counseling family members is the difficulty in being objective. As much as you would like to, you have a personal investment in your family and you cannot be a neutral sounding board. It becomes difficult to navigate multiple layers and perspectives because you only have one.
It can also be difficult to let go of “counselor speak.” Instead of truly listening to what they have to say, you are attempting to cross the murky boundaries between clinician and friend.
Counseling your family also does not allow your brain time to recharge–which is an essential key to having a healthy grasp on your own mental health.
Get Your Own Counselor
Earlier this year, I suffered a miscarriage. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of my lungs. One of the most difficult parts of it all was returning to work. I knew that my students needed me, and I felt like I had nothing to offer them. I was broken from the inside out and I felt like my emotional register had been depleted.
Times like this make us reevaluate our own mental health. Sometimes life throws difficult things our way and it can become challenging to push forward when our own personal struggles interfere with our emotions. When you are a good listener, you are offering a service and giving much of yourself without much in return. Sometimes it is necessary to seek out your own counselor without feeling ashamed or inadequate.
Wellness is of the utmost importance because, without it, we can’t truly be effective.
Leave Your Student/Client/Friend Issues with Them
There are times when issues come up at work that may strike a personal chord with you. It can be difficult to leave an issue at work. If you find yourself perseverating over a student/client issue at home, it may be time to reevaluate your own mental health.
Also, there is absoultely nothing wrong with thinking about (and providing support to) your friend who is going through a difficult time. It is another to own their problems as your own.
If you find it difficult to remain objective, it’s okay to refer the student/client/friend to someone else.
Constantly bringing issues home may be a sign of burnout.
Find a Hobby to Help Unwind
The most difficult part of counseling can be the mental toll that it takes on the counselor. Even if you are not taking issues home, you still need a way to destress. There are an unlimited amount of ways to provide yourself with stress relief, so don’t feel limited to just one activity.
You may enjoy scheduled activities with friends or community groups. Finding solace in a hobby can help you have more clarity at work after you have spent time doing something that you enjoy.
I personally love unplugging and spending time with my family.
Seperate Friendly Greetings From Quick Counseling Sessions
Seeing our student/clients in public can be unavoidable if we live and work in the same community. It can also pose a challenge when boundaries are not established quickly.
Keeping the conversations quick & cordial can keep the exchange from becoming awkward. If you are introduced as the counselor, stay clear of conversations about counseling sessions and topics.
Follow the student’s/client’s lead when you notice them in public. They may not feel comfortable approaching you or introducing you to their family members, which may save you from interacting at all.
If you are not a counselor, but you have a friend that makes you feel drained every time you talk to them, it may be a good time to put a little space in between you and your friend. You owe it to yourself.
How do you preserve your own mental health?