The counsellors’ overall psychological, emotional, sexual and physical health is paramount to maintaining high standards in practice. So much so, that the development of these aspects is catered for during their training to become counsellors.

Self-care practices contribute towards the acquisition of a healthy balance between the personal and professional lives, fostering resilience for the counsellors developing into effective and resourceful professionals.   

Self-care Practices

Self-care practices can take different forms in the counsellors’ personal and professional lives. Daily positive attitudes and activities contribute to good health. Self-awareness, together with the ability to assess risks and adopt healthy coping mechanisms are crucial for their well-being.

Whether counsellors are working within organisational settings or in private practice, the same principles need to be adhered to.

  • Adopting a reflexive approach in order to maintain overall, healthy relationships with clients, colleagues, managers and other staff members, especially in light of the diverse personalities.

  • Effective management of anger issues to minimise risks eliciting from possible related client or staff outburst.

  • Considering ways to address any possible liabilities incurred, eg. coverage through a professional indemnity insurance. In organisational settings, this should be safeguarded by the employer.

  • Establishing a professional network of counsellors for support to discuss cases when necessary. The autonomy of the clients is to be respected and hidden from colleagues.

  • Addressing personal matters effectively. This may at times, require counsellors to seek to attend personal counselling for themselves.

Supporting Practices Promoting Good Health

Minimising any risks that can emerge during counselling or at the place of work is essential. The following suggestions support this notion.

  • Sessions are to be held in an appropriate and safe environment, ensuring that entrance to the place is monitored and that the counsellors have easy access for help if needed.

  • Creating an ethos for the counselling department to throw light on setting clear goals and prioritization of work.

  • Providing opportunities to encourage counsellors’ self-evaluation, supported by appropriate appraisals for the upkeep of high standard counselling.

  • Multiple roles are to be avoided and where inevitable, eg. in an organisational setting, it is imperative that roles are clear. Individuals assigned with different roles are to be given adequate support and training to be well equipped with the necessary competencies to minimise risks of any harm, and to appropriately handle conflicts of interest arising from the situation. 

  • Work-loads are to be fairly distributed, taking into account the different variables, eg. the amount of complex cases, the counsellors’ expertise and level of experience, other duties assigned to the counsellors and the support/supervision provided. In private practice, counsellors need to be able to measure their own ability on how many cases they can handle and at the same time be careful not to work in isolation.

  • Providing the necessary monitoring and support to trainee counsellors during a placement.

Stressors to Be Monitored

Stressors that are common in the counsellors’ scenario may vary from ones which arise from their own internal/personal distress; to those emerging from the counsellor/client relationship, being positive or negative; or to others brought about by external factors arising from an organisational setting.

Personal Distress

Personal distress may be stemming from the counsellors’ own internal conflicts, family or relationship issues or from the work environment. It is the responsibility of the counsellors, to maintain a high level of self-awareness to be able to detect the cause of the distress and attempt to successfully resolve it through various means, eg. seek support from personal counselling or through supervision. Counsellors in distress should be supported and encouraged in a non-judgemental way by their colleague counsellors and management. When they do not manage to overcome their distress, they need to explore alternate arrangements to avoid any harm done on their clients or onto themselves.

The Counsellor/Client Relationship

During the counselling process with the client, there can develop both a positive and a negative synergy. This can present a source of stress to the counsellor in dealing appropriately with the counter transference experienced. Other stressors that can be created are for example: the limited time/duration of the counselling work with the client, especially in an organisational setting; differences in value laden fundamentals, such as religion and culture; an aggressive attitude of the clients or their relatives. In these situations, the counsellors can utilise supervision to be supported to identify the main stressor and resolve appropriately, also discussing alternate arrangements when resolution is not experienced. The supervisor needs to be perceived as a person/professional of trust by the counsellor.

External Factors arising from an organisational setting

Organisational settings present distinct scenarios that may conflict with the specific requirements of the counselling department and its effective running. In this regard, stress can arise eg. when the provision of an adequate space where the counsellor can work and conduct sessions in confidence is problematic; working conditions may not be conducive to the safe-guarding of the counsellors’ mental-health who are heavily exposed to trauma and severe cases; departmental managers may not be adequately trained in management, or not familiar enough with the profession. This type of management may leave essential departmental requirements unidentified; the lack of an efficient referral system can jeopardize the prioritization of client assignment according to their needs and level of urgency; the absence of a suitable and respectful system measuring counsellors’ accountability.

It is the counsellors’ responsibility to identify such stressors and draw them to the attention of the organisation; whereas it is the organisation’s responsibility to ensure that these matters are addressed in order to protect the counsellors’ wellbeing and sustain a high quality counselling service to its clients as ethically correct. 

This writing was formulated in accordance with principles presented in The Code of Ethics of the Malta Association for the Counselling Profession.​

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