As a counselling supervisor I see one of my responsibilities as helping supervisees consider the amount and type of counselling work they undertake, the range of activities they are involved in, the hours they work and the impact of any personal difficulties on the work with clients. Considering the context in which the counsellor works and the impact of any organisational stressors is also important.
However, even though these issues are discussed, I am always surprised at the way many counsellors discount their limitations, somehow believing they are immune from the effects of overwork. It is impossible to provide a formula for the amount and type of counselling work a practitioner should undertake. Factors such as counsellor experience, type of client problem, duration of counselling and the counsellor’s own personality are too variable to allow such a formula to exist. This means even more emphasis is laid on the counsellor and the counselling supervisor to find the right mix for each individual.
In stress counselling models are used to aid client understanding. One such model is the ‘Stage’ approach. During Stage One the person does not experience any obvious ill effects and indeed may feel a sense of wellbeing from the adrenaline buzz of being busy. In Stage Two the person may show signs of irritability, tiredness and anxiety. Stage Three is usually characterised by withdrawal, illness, poor judgement, depression and guilt.
Perhaps poor judgement makes it harder for a counsellor to know where their limits are and this may be where the counselling supervisor, colleagues, lines managers and friends can help, providing the counsellor is willing to hear what is being said.
Stress counsellors aim to help clients achieve a balance in lifestyle. A balance between work and personal life, between the things that tax us and the things that give us pleasure helps stress-proof individuals. Counsellors are all individuals and for some counselling is a deeply held philosophical conviction which infiltrates every part of the person’s life. For others it is a job which they want to do well and which is viewed as no more than a satisfying job nevertheless.
Whatever a counsellor’s motivation for counselling, stress awareness is important if the counsellor is to remain physically, emotionally and psychologically healthy and available for effective client work.