If your job involves counselling, helping or supporting others, you may have a tendency to look after everyone else well, but place your own needs way down the priority list. Some people even seem to take a pride in running themselves ragged, considering that stress and eventual burnout constitute an occupational hazard or even a badge of honour. But that really does not help. Ultimately, we are all able to give better-quality care if we keep ourselves fit for the work and find pleasure and satisfaction in what we do.
Workers do not need to be ‘suffering’ in order to be in need of help and care. Prevention is much better than cure, and the maintenance of a balanced and happy workforce has been found to provide highly efficient services. You will already be aware of many ways to relieve stress (such as relaxation, rest, exercise, social support, enough sleep and eating well). These are often referred to in a superficial way, and not truly addressed. Some of you may well find yourselves advising others on the need for stress prevention while feeling burnt out yourselves.
Perhaps you have always thought that ‘one day’, you would learn to meditate, or incorporate a daily yoga routine. Maybe, you need to give up smoking or junk food, or want to take up running three miles a day. Whatever you think will be helpful to you, consider this carefully – and plan for action. You owe it to yourself to treat yourself well, and not to put it off.
There are also ways that helpers can help prevent or minimise stress through good practice. It is very important to be clear about our levels of competence in the use of our job skills, and to be disciplined about not working beyond those levels. You need to be responsible for working within the limits of your competence. Clearly, this protects the interests of the people you aim to help, but it is also an important way of protecting ourselves as helpers. Can we up-skill ourselves with additional training?
Both practitioners and their organisations have responsibility for monitoring and developing the practitioner’s competence. Supervision is recognised as one of the best methods for achieving this.
Supervision involves regular meetings with an experienced professional with a remit for this role. (For professional counsellors, supervision is a requirement of the job.)
For some people, ‘supervision’ conjures up a sense of being watched and perhaps being ‘found out’. In former decades, supervisors were perceived to be people whose job it was to find fault with practices, and point fingers of blame. For others, the term implies something more supportive. Supervision (of a supportive kind) and support in a more general sense are both very useful ways of taking care of ourselves as helpers. The purposes of supervision for helpers include:
help to maintain standards
enhance confidence, clarity and competence
develop new ideas and approaches
help to manage stress.
In these ways, you can be confident that you are working to the best of your ability, and also have the satisfaction that you are providing a great service while caring for your own needs too.
The Academy for Distance Learning provides courses for people interested in the caring, counselling and teaching professions.