Graduate school can be challenging for anyone, but learning how to be a counselor presents its own unique challenges. Because we are learning how to listen to, think about, and talk to people with emotional problems we are at higher risk for burnout. So, before you start classes, read these top ten ways in which you can avoid burning yourself out:
- Don’t overload yourself. If you’ve been out of school for a while, you may want to re-enter the academic world gradually. You also may want to consider whether or not you will work, and if you do whether it will be full or part time. All students are different, some can handle full-time work and full-time school, but some can’t. Consider all of your obligations, both professional and personal, before making a decision. And…don’t be a hero. If you don’t think you can handle the schedule maybe you can’t. Be realistic.
- Recognize your triggers. Be aware of what situations tend to give you the most stress, and plan accordingly. Better yet, eliminate people or activities from your life that are stressful, negative or unrewarding. Or at least limit them. Tell people you’re a grad student with no life (how can they argue with that?) Know how your body reacts to stress, and what your personal warning signs are that you are reaching your limit. Then duck out of whatever you can get out of so you can rest. The last thing you need is an emotional meltdown in the middle of class. I’ve seen it, and it ain’t pretty.
- Understand the challenges of the work. In addition to normal grad school stress, counselors face emotional challenges. Because counseling work is so personal, it is possible (even probable) that at some point during your education your personal issues will come to the forefront. If this happens, seek help. Most universities provide individual counseling for students- just ask. Seeking help doesn’t make you an unqualified therapist, it makes you an aware therapist.
- Take care of your body. Make sure you get proper sleep, nutrition and exercise. It is not selfish to take care of yourself! And the time invested will pay multiple dividends. Start practicing now what (hopefully) you will instruct your own clients to do later.
- Stay on top of your work. Generally it is better to do a little bit each day rather than waiting until the last minute. Know your deadlines and prepare well ahead of them. That way, if you have an emergency, you won’t fall too far behind. Falling behind creates an additional psychological barrier, creating more stress, making it difficult or impossible to catch up.
- Use university resources! Your professors are there to help. Go see them during office hours and tell them your concerns. Figure out what you need and seek help for it. For example, if you don’t write well, most large universities have a writing center. Help is usually there for the asking. Don’t be shy- you are paying for these services whether you use them or not!
- Don’t try to be perfect. A “done” assignment is better than an assignment you stress yourself out over in an attempt to be perfect. Think of your mental energy as a limited resource, then dole out appropriately. Perfection isn’t necessary.
Yours in the Joy of Knowledge,