Counselors give significant amount of their time and energy to their calling. At its very core, biblical counseling is a call to be an ambassador of reconciliation by walking with distraught people through trials and suffering and holding out gospel hope to them. Furthermore, it is a challenging calling. If you are a doing any type of counseling, formal or informal, you need to be very intentional to also take care of yourself. This is an area that can be easily missed. One simple reason for that is because self-care is something not often talked about among biblical counselors. In seeking to lay down their lives for others, they can be less attentive to their own needs. Philippians 2:4 says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Don’t miss the “not only” part of that passage. Looking to your own interests appropriately can actually position you to serve better. Here are a few questions you can ask to determine if you need to heighten your focus on caring for yourself as you serve others.
Do You Listen to Your Body?
Your body sends you signals when it needs something. It is important to listen to what your body is telling you. Basic essentials like food and sleep can be the first areas that are unknowingly sacrificed when caring for others. Guard against pushing your bedtime later and later. By God’s design, we need rest and when this is missing, it will affect your ability to serve well. Healthy eating goes along with your need for rest. Despite many people’s experience, you cannot run on coffee alone. Poor eating habits will catch up to you.
Lack of exercise is another way you can ignore listening to your body. It can be much easier to miss the messages your body is telling you in this area. Counselors spend a good amount of time sitting down and listening to people. Your mind and heart are active, but your cardiovascular system and muscles are not. The aches and pains you may be feeling might just be your body telling you it needs care. Hearing difficult stories can build up stress in your body, and exercise can be a helpful way alleviate stress in yourself.
Does Your Schedule Reflect Your Priorities?
Undoubtedly, there are other things you really enjoy doing besides counseling. However, if you find your hobbies and interests have no place in your schedule, it is probably time to take a look at why that is. There will always be a crisis or need when you are a counselor. A call to care for others as a counselor does not mean you lose yourself. God has given you other talents and interests. There is purpose in these gifts and interests as well, so don’t ignore them.
Do you have time alone? Even the most extroverted person needs time alone—time to be with the Lord and to recharge should be a guarded priority in your schedule. Because counseling fully engages you with people, being alone can help you create “space” to reflect on your own life with the Lord. If Jesus took time to find a quiet place of solitude, then we should consider how much we need to do the same. Not only does this create a space for being refreshed, but it also expresses a trust in God to care for others while you care for yourself.
Are You Less Patient or Empathetic?
Being prone to impatience is certainly a disconcerting character trait for believers, but if you find yourself less patient with the people you are caring for, then it is something that must be addressed. Lack of empathy is also cause for concern. Both of these problems can come from traversing in the dark places of people’s lives. Walking with people in crisis and pain will have an effect on you. Counselors need to be aware of signs that they too need care. If you find that you care less, it is a good time to care more for yourself. Be sure you are not neglecting those things that help you to serve well.
Conclusion: Self-care is Not Selfish
These are just a few areas to get you thinking about whether or not you are doing well in caring for yourself as you care for others. The ministry of counseling has a deep impact on your own mind, body, and soul. Counselors need to rest assured that self-care is not selfish; it is a means to guard their own wellbeing. In turn it blesses those to whom you are ministering. You will serve better when you care for yourself.
Join the Conversation
What are other signs pointing to a need for self-care should counselors be aware of in their lives? How can counselors get better at disciplining themselves for self-care?