Self-Care for the Addiction Professional

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Treatment counselors and addiction professionals experience multiple, unique stressors in varying aspects of their jobs. They help clients who are dealing with complicated issues and are responsible for assisting clients in processing painful emotions daily. Unfortunately, helping clients can have a negative impact on the addiction professional’s well-being. As members of a helping profession, they may believe they can handle the stress of working with clients who are often in crisis. They may believe their professional training has prepared them to deal with such pressures. However, in reality, they are still vulnerable to the effects of burnout and compassion fatigue. Over time, the stress they experience can have detrimental effects on their mental health, well-being, and resilience if not appropriately addressed through self-care and healthy coping mechanisms. The goal of self-care for treatment counselors is to balance caring for their clients and caring for themselves. The challenge counselors often face is putting their clients first at the expense of their own mental health and well-being. Therefore, it is essential to maintain a healthy boundary between work and personal life and convey the same empathy and compassion towards themselves as they do their clients. 

Self Care Tips

Often addiction professionals emphasize their clients’ need to practice self-care, despite their struggle to take their own advice. Here are some tips for addiction professionals to help maintain their self-care:

  • Set boundaries: To prevent burnout, it is essential to keep work within its hourly parameters and resist the temptation to carry work into personal life. Maintaining healthy boundaries for assigned work time is a helpful tool for self-care. It is critical to practice self-compassion and embrace their limitations, as there is only so much one can do. Setting these personal boundaries at work is an essential step in self-care. 
  • Practice mindfulness: Daily mindfulness activities can serve as a defense for burnout. Various mindfulness practices can be modified to meet a treatment counselor’s needs. Aromatherapy, focused breathing, meditation, and purposeful listening can all serve the counselor as much as the client. 
  • Engage in fun activities outside of work: Activities to help manage and prevent burnout can include exercising and spending quality time with family, friends, and social supports. Outdoor physical activity, taking a vacation, and making time for favorite hobbies can be beneficial forms of self-care.
  • Remain self-aware: Monitoring oneself for signs and symptoms of physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion is vital. As everyone may experience these differently, recognizing signs and symptoms can help initiate action before things get too serious or overwhelming. 
  • Make time for rest: Rest and relaxation, such as reading, journaling, watching a movie, or any other forms of relaxation, can help ease some of the pressure brought about by overworking.
  • Debriefing and processing: After a complex case, taking time to debrief and process the events can help. Sometimes it can be beneficial to debrief with colleagues between sessions or ask for help with difficulty processing complex emotions.
  • Limiting caseload: The ability to restrict the number of clients, even temporarily, can provide relief from stress and facilitate recuperation.
  • Proper nutrition: Eating healthy and getting enough beneficial nutrients, vitamins and minerals are essential to having the energy and mental clarity to do any job well and maintain physical and psychological health. 
  • Seek personal counseling: When things become too difficult, seeking professional help can assist with processing emotions and bolstering coping skills. 

Compassion Fatigue and Burnout

It is critical to keep in mind that treatment providers are at risk for compassion fatigue and burnout as they may be exposed frequently to their clients’ traumatic experiences. This is why practicing self-care and, if necessary, receiving counseling is paramount. According to the National Institutes of Health, compassion fatigue and burnout are defined as the following:

  • Compassion fatigue (CF): A combination of physical and mental depletion associated with caring for patients in significant emotional pain and physical distress. More specifically, it develops from working with traumatized clients. CF can be described as a convergence of secondary traumatic stress (STS) and cumulative burnout. Professionals regularly exposed to the traumatic experiences of the people they serve are particularly susceptible to developing CF.
  • Burnout: Develops in response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stress. Burnout can develop gradually and results from a counselor’s response to the stress of dealing with clients and their work environment. Burnout differs from compassion fatigue because compassion fatigue can have a sudden onset and develops more specifically due to one’s response to working with traumatized clients.

Addiction professionals can experience compassion fatigue and burnout as many are exposed to unique, challenging stressors. Like the clients they serve, it is essential for addiction professionals to make self-care a priority. The goal of self-care for treatment counselors is to balance caring for their clients and caring for themselves. Counselors may put their clients’ needs first over their own, which can adversely affect their well-being. Maintaining healthy boundaries and conveying the same empathy towards themselves as they do their clients is vital for preventing burnout. It may help addiction professionals stay mindful by asking themselves: What are my current stressors and changes in my life? What is my coping style? Do I have a personal history of trauma? Would I be able to ask for help if I needed it? Nestled in the beautiful Hollywood Hills, Alta Center offers premier substance abuse treatment where you can unblock and focus on recovery. Call (888) 202-2583.

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