People in the helping professions often find it easier to give than receive support. Indeed, complex feelings around caring for ourselves and others might explain why some of us choose to pursue a career in counselling. Perhaps we want to deny our own vulnerability, or maybe our upbringing has taught us to prioritise the needs of others.
But lack of self-care can have serious consequences, not just for our own health, but for the health of our clients. A BACP survey of members who work, or have worked, in the NHS shows just how serious. Gemma Ryan reports that NHS counsellors are struggling under the twin pressures of low resources and high demand, potentially compromising professional ethics. No wonder NHS therapists experience levels of stress that are unacceptable by the Government’s own standards – and that was before the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s not just qualified counsellors who are struggling. Dr Elaine Beaumont highlightsthe link between lack of self-care and burnout among student CBT therapists and counsellors, a link that prompted her to introduce a compassion-focused therapy module on her MSc courses at the University of Salford. Noah Sisson-Curbishley was one of Elaine’s students. He writes about his own journey to self-compassion and the positive impact on his clinical work.
It’s not always easy to prioritise our own needs, especially when the needs of our clients are so acute. It can also be difficult even to recognise when we need to take care of ourselves. Judy Stafford writes
about the importance of boundaries. If you notice that your boundaries are becoming blurred, it could be a sign that you are not taking care of yourself. Boundaries are important to Elaine Nicholson, too. Elaine specialises in counselling people who are affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and urges us to respect the boundaries of our therapeutic knowledge and expertise.
Elaine explains that diagnosis of ASD is complex, and cautions against suggesting ASD to a client, as it can do more harm than good.
The coronavirus serves as a reminder that elderly people are among the more vulnerable members of our community and often find it difficult to access mental healthcare. The barriers are especially high for elderly people who are suffering from long-term conditions, such as cardiovascular disease. So, it’s heartening to read Idyli Kamaterou’s account of a successful scheme to offer CBT to elderly people with chronic conditions.
Clients who are addicted to substances or behaviours are also vulnerable, particularly if we understand addiction as a way to cope with unbearable psychological pain. Geoff Ferguson explores some of the reasons why we become addicted to harmful drugs or destructive behaviours, and discusses some of the implications for treatment.
Counsellors and psychotherapists can play an important role in helping the country get through the coronavirus crisis. But we have to take care of ourselves in order to better take care of others. Remember the aircraft safety demonstration? You have to put on your own oxygen mask first.
We all have our equivalent of an ‘oxygen mask’. You might like to cook, dance or sing. I believe it’s important for our mental health to stay connected with others – and the journal’s a great way to stay connected with colleagues. We can also celebrate rather than demonise modern technology and use it to keep in touch with family, friends and colleagues.