Counselor Self-Care Series: Your Counseling Internship and Self-Care

Last updated: April 2020

I have been working in the social services field since 2005. Currently, I own and operate the website that promotes self care for the mental health professional.

-Counselor Chris P., M.A. (Christal Pennic)

This is a continuation of self care as a Mental Health Counselor. This time I am addressing burnout and the importance of Self Care with counselors-in-training.

What is Burnout in a Counseling Internship?

How can one burn out during an internship? An internship is just the start of the process of their career?? A counselor-in-training should just be excited that they are now practicing! It can happen! Trust me as it has happened to many counselors-in-training before and myself. As a counselor-in-training, my internship was located at an elementary school about 42 miles away from my home. I was also working a full time job of 60-70 plus hours, that included on call responsibilities during the week and alternating on the weekends. I was continued to take grad classes. There were many times I’d arrive to my internship location and would just sit in my vehicle to take a breather before starting my day with my clients. My internship was counseling with elementary aged students who presented social skill difficulties, behavioral issues, learning disabilities, family issues of substance abuse, poverty, lack of parental skills and so forth. I was fortunate to have already worked in the field of counseling/case management for a number of years before entering into grad school and doing my internship, but burn out was still a part of my struggle. So if someone like me was experiencing burn out during my 8 months of internship, imagine the amount of emotional and mental stress one would experience if the internship was their first experience to the world of counseling. In my experience, applied work is nothing like the textbooks or classroom work and counselors-in-training should be made aware before they start interning.

Recognizing Signs of Burnout During Your Clinical Experience

New counselors may enter their internship unaware of the fact that everyday is a new day in this field, that one must expect the unexpected and many things are not in your control. Counselors-in-training will be experiencing their first incidents that involve explosive crisis episodes with clients, feelings of inadequacies in what exactly do for a client and the most detrimental issue of a counselor-in-training, is falling victim to the idea of needing to solve client’s problems instantly with the counselor’s “magic wand”. It took me a few years to understand that there is no magic answer, no magic solutions in the DSM. One must learn to “trust the process”, celebrate small victories and give yourself and clients time. To prevent further burn out, counselors in training have to learn to never work harder than the client. It is the client’s responsibility to conquer their own challenges, we just give them the tools to help them.

Self-care Techniques to Address Counselor Burnout

The dangers of burnout during this time is that a counselor-in-training will start to second guess why they entered into the field of counseling. One can start to have their own mental health problems and/or physical ailments due to taking the problems of their clients as their own. Adopting self care techniques is very important from the counselor-in-training to the most seasoned counselor.

  1. Communication with your supervisor: If you start to question yourself, experience fatigue, loose passion for the field that you know you love, always communicate your needs. I made this mistake so many times and ended up becoming physically ill with digestive problems for months.
  2. Positive Self-Talk:. The best time to perform your positive self talk is the first few minutes after you wake up in the mornings. I listened to Les Brown the motivational speaker state how important the first 20 minutes of your day is. Your thoughts in the first 20 minutes of your day determines what type of day you will have, good or bad, positive or negative. I recently adopted using positive self talk, motivational speeches and meditation/prayer at the very beginning of my day. I have seen positive results. I have also saved all of my birthday cards, going away cards and placed them in my office so I can read them at any time I feel inadequate.
  3. Turn Your Office Lights Down or Off: Decorate your office space with salt lamps or low light lamps if you can. This helps my mood at times.

Stay tuned for another series of self care for counselors.

Learn more on the Counselor Self-Care Series by Counselor Chris P. on 12 Signs of Counselor Burnout