2020 is a year like no other for everybody; counsellors and therapists are no exception.
The Covid-19 pandemic has necessitated a change in ways of working that have been dramatic for many. We’ve moved from traditional face-to-face support in a designated therapy space to zoom meetings or telephone calls from our homes. While in most cases the change to this new way of working has been positive, naturally it is not possible or suitable for every client (or indeed every therapist) so some counsellors, most of whom are self-employed, have been left with financial worries and the deep disappointment of not being able to help people as effectively as they would like.
Those who are still able to work are being kept busy. It may yet be too early for analysis but it already feels as though more people are accessing emotional support. There is, sadly, increased demand on bereavement services; but also, the lockdown has exacerbated issues and feelings including anxiety, depression and loneliness, as well as highlighting relationship difficulties and, in the worst cases, leading to a rise in incidences of domestic abuse.
In this context, perhaps National Counsellors Day 2020 is an opportunity to reflect on who is looking after the counsellors.
National Counsellors Day is the initiative of Counsellors Together UK (CTUK), established in 2017. The stated main aim of CTUK is to ‘work together to end the culture and prevalence of unpaid work within our profession.’
Within this aim, there lies the importance of recognising the pressures and challenges inherent in the profession and properly valuing the work that counsellors do. Advocating for proper remuneration is one aspect of this and so, too, is encouraging counsellors to develop their own sense of self-worth and supporting themselves with adequate self-care.
The downside of the increased prevalence of the phrase ‘self-care’ in recent years is that the meaning risks being somewhat trivialised. Self-care, for most of us, means more than a bubble bath or even a long walk (though these things can work wonders!) Self-care for a therapist is about recognising and valuing your own strengths and skills but also acknowledging your own limitations and vulnerabilities, and attending to these. In this way you will build resilience and be better placed to help others. As we navigate this particularly challenging year, you might like to check in with yourself on the following aspects of self-care:
How’s your environment? what effect do your surroundings have on you? It’s likely you’re now working at home, so are you able to delineate between work and leisure space? Do you have regular access to outside space and nature? Who is around you? Are you able to be (physically) close to the family and friends you need and who give you positive energy? If not, what else can you do to make sure your environment supports and nurtures you?
Get out of your own head: regular supervision is of course essential, and being in touch with counselling colleagues can give us a safe and healthy support network. However, for properly balanced self-care we also need to take some time out from the counselling ‘space’. How regularly do you talk to or spend time with people who are not clients or colleagues, who are not in the therapy ‘world’ at all? Achieving balance also means attending to things that take you out of that cerebral space, so physical exercise, involvement with nature eg gardening, or a hands-on creative activity like baking or knitting can give your therapist head a much-needed rest.
Take a break: A proper break. One of the classic dangers of working from home is being unable to switch off, and during a pandemic when our travel and leisure options are limited, this risk becomes multiplied. It can feel ‘a waste’ to have a holiday. You might experience guilt saying to clients ‘I’m going to be away for a week’ when you have nowhere to go. Add to that the potential financial insecurity mentioned above and it’s easy to think you may as well keep working, hadn’t you?
On National Counsellors Day 2020, our message from Professional Help and GriefChat to the counsellors out there is a simple one: thank you, and take care.