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Counseling is becoming a popular profession, which is in demand, as modern people have to face numerous challenges and they are unable to cope with them effectively on their own. It has been acknowledged that counseling without a self-care plan can be hazardous for the counselor’s physical and mental health.
Thus, the most common physical disorders are hypertension, heart diseases and fatigue while the most common mental disorders are depression, anxiety, vicarious traumatization and compassion fatigue. In order to avoid burnout and development of these disorders, counselors should have effective self-care action plans.
Counselors help their clients to overcome numerous issues. These professionals often have to be compassionate and, at the same time, remain distant from the problem to be able to objectively analyze the situation and help the client recover. Clearly, listening to various stories associated with pain, loss, despair and other highly negative emotions can be a hard task for counselors as they can become vulnerable to physical and mental impairment.
It is necessary to stress that “according to the core ethical principles of counseling”, the counselor should “do no harm, benefit others, and pursue excellence in their profession” (Richards, Campenni & Muse-Burke, 2010, p. 247). Admittedly, this is impossible if the counsellor is suffering from depression or has substance abuse or vicarious trauma (which are quite common if a self-care action plan is not in place).
It is necessary to note that there is certain amount of literature on the importance of self-care plans for counselors though there are still many gaps in the field. The purpose of this research is to identify whether providing counseling can have a negative influence on the mental as well as physical state of the counselor if he/she does not have an effective self-care action plan in place.
As has been mentioned above, there are a number of studies concentrating on counselors’ need to develop self-care plans. Hence, Richards et al. (2010, p. 247) explore the correlation between counselors’ self-care plans and their “general well-being” and the researchers note that there is a strong link between the plans and the counselors’ health. It is noteworthy that the researchers stress that mindfulness has a significant impact on effectiveness of the self-care plan.
Sadler-Gerhardt and Stevenson (2011) argue that counseling often leads to alienation and burnout. The researchers also stress that counselors are often vulnerable to vicarious traumatization that “alters the worldview” and may result in disruption of self-identity, memory and beliefs, diverted sense of safety, development of intrusive thoughts (Sadler-Gerhardt & Stevenson, 2011, p. 3).
Warren, Morgan, Morris and Morris (2010) also claim that counselling with no (or with an inappropriate) self-care plan may significantly deteriorate the counselor’s physical (fatigue) and mental (depression) health. It is noteworthy that the researchers identify one of the major reasons for the occurrence of negative effects.
According to Warren et al. (2010), the major reason for the negative impact of counselling is inability of counselors to share their experiences and stories they hear. According to ethical codes, counselors are not allowed to share any information even with their colleagues (with only some exceptions). This leads to counselors’ overload.
Abdullah, Lau and Chan (2012) implement a brief survey of self-care strategies of four Malaysian counselors. The participants effectively use self-care plans, which helps them remain healthy physically and mentally. Abdullah et al. (2012) note that counselling is often challenging and demanding as well as “emotionally taxing”, which leads to fatigue and alienation (Abdullah et al., 2012, p. 45).
Christopher et al. (2010) also state that counselors are often subjected to development of fatigue, vicarious traumatization, compassion fatigue, anxiety, depression. The researchers stress that these professionals may often develop such physical disorders as hypertension, heart disorders and gastrointestinal disorders.
Christopher et al. (2010) add that novice counselors are not prepared for such load and often lack expertise in developing self-care plan, which increases their chances to develop mental and physical disorders.
This research is based on data obtained during literature search. Scholarly journal articles on the topic were monitored and analyzed. It is necessary to note that only recent articles (not older than five years) were included.
Peer reviewed articles on benefits of specific self-care techniques were also included as they contained valuable insights into negative effects of counseling.
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All the articles analyzed include information on negative effects of counseling in cases when a counselor does not have a self-care action plan. The most common physical disorders associated with counseling without a self-care plan are hypertension, heart disorders and tiredness.
As far as mental disorders are concerned, researchers mention depression, vicarious traumatization, compassion fatigue and anxiety. The researchers also stress that effective self-care plans can diminish negative effects of counseling.
According to the research, all counselors should have an effective self-care action plan to be able to avoid burnout, fatigue and development of certain physical and mental disorders. Notably, researchers identify major hazards. When it comes to physical issues, it can be hypertension, heart diseases and fatigue (Christopher et al., 2010).
It is necessary to add that most researchers focus on mental disorders rather than physical diseases. This suggests that most common disorders are mental and, if proper actions are not undertaken, physical diseases also develop.
As for mental disorders, researchers mention anxiety, depression, vicarious traumatization and compassion fatigue. When it comes to the former disorder, it can be easily explained, as counselors have to listen to many stories that can be shocking. As has been mentioned above, according to the ethical code, counselors have to be attentive and compassionate (Richards et al., 2010).
Therefore, they cannot simply listen to stories without empathizing. The empathy leads to certain emotional load. Anxiety and depression can be seen as results of such load. Vicarious traumatization and compassion fatigue also lead to development of depression and anxiety.
Vicarious traumatization and compassion fatigue can be defined as certain states resulting “from actions of empathic compassion, caring, and a view of the client as someone who suffers” (Sadler-Gerhardt & Stevenson, 2011, p. 2). Counselors may often become less objective and may provide poorer services. Importantly, they may develop such conditions as alienation, anxiety, depression as well as certain shift in self-identity and trust.
Admittedly, the data obtained suggest that counselors have to have an appropriate self-care action plan to avoid any burnout or fatigue as well as development of serious physical and mental issues. It is important to add that there is a need in specific training on development of efficient self-care action plans. Christopher et al. (2010) argue that educators do not provide future counselors with all the necessary information on development of self-care plans, which poses numerous threats to the profession.
The next step in this direction should be research of available techniques used to create self-care plans. It is noteworthy that some researchers have already completed certain surveys on the mater. Thus, Warren et al. (2010) state that the issues concerning inability to share stories counselors hear can be solved with the help of creative writing. Of course, such ideas as well as others should be considered in detail and corresponding experiments and observations should be held.
On balance, it is necessary to note that counseling without effective self-care action plans can lead to development of physical and mental disorders in counselors. Most common physical disorders associated with counseling with no self-care plan are hypertension, heart diseases and fatigue. When it comes to mental disorders, these can be vicarious traumatization, compassion fatigue, depression and anxiety.
It is possible to note that the research implemented can have numerous positive implications for a therapist in the real world. First, each counselor will understand that he/she is under certain pressure and it is important to have a self-care plan to avoid development of certain mental and physical disorders.
Each counselor can see that helping others has a particular negative impact on their health and their professional skills. Secondly, this research also unveils a number of techniques to develop efficient self-care plans and can be used in real-life settings. Finally, this research can be the first step in a deeper analysis of the problem. Of course, the focus will be made on strategies that can be utilized to make an efficient self-care action plan.
Abdullah, H.S., Lau, P.L., & Chan, K.F. (2012). Self-care strategies among Malaysian counselors. The International Journal of Research and Review, 9, 44-58.
Christopher, J.C., Chrisman, J.A., Trotter-Mathison, M.J., Schure, M.B., Dahlen, P., & Christopher, S.B. (2010). Perceptions of the long-term influence of mindfulness training on counselors and psychotherapists: A qualitative inquiry. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 51(3), 318-349.
Richards, K.C., Campenni, C.E., & Muse-Burke, J.L. (2010). Self-care and well-being in mental health professionals: The mediating effects of self-awareness and mindfulness. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 32(3), 247-264.
Sadler-Gerhardt, C.J., & Stevenson, D.L. (2011). When it all hits the fan: Helping counselors build resilience and avoid burnout. Vistas, 1, 1-8.
Warren, J., Morgan, M.M., Morris, L.N.B., & Morris, T.M. (2010). Mental health breathing words slowly: Creative writing and counselor self-care—the writing workout. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 5, 109-124.