Dedicating time to a self-care journal helps counselors fight burnout.
“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” —Isaac Asimov
When you’re taking on the emotional baggage of so many other people, taking care of yourself needs to be your number one priority. We all know how important self-care is, but putting it into practice is usually the tricky part. A self-care journal allows counselors to purge that which weighs heavy on them. Though, journaling isn’t only for the challenging thoughts. The practice of getting your ideas out on paper helps counselors celebrate happy moments or develop a sense of gratitude.
1. Journaling through the tough times
As a counselor, regardless of your training, you often absorb some of the pain and suffering your clients share in confidence with you.
According to Psychiatric Times, “Secondary trauma is defined as indirect exposure to trauma through a firsthand account or narrative of a traumatic event. The vivid recounting of trauma by the survivor and the clinician’s subsequent cognitive or emotional representation of that event may result in a set of symptoms and reactions that parallel PTSD (e.g., re-experiencing, avoidance and hyperarousal). Secondary traumatization is also referred to as compassion fatigue (Figley, 1995) and vicarious traumatization (Pearlman and Saakvitne, 1995).”
If you’re experiencing compassion fatigue, getting your thoughts out on paper and into a self-care journal may help you process your feelings better. Relieving yourself of the secondary trauma prevents burnout. It allows for a clean slate so you can be fresh to treat your next client, who also needs you to be at your best.
2. Journaling for discovery
“In my life, writing has been an important exercise to clarify what I believe, what I see, what I care about, what my deepest values are.” —President Barack Obama
Listening is one of the most valuable skills counselors put into practice in their profession. Part of the way our clients process their feelings is being heard by another individual—and that person is you. Journaling is a tool a counselor can use to process their own thoughts. While journaling your feelings after a particularly traumatic session can be beneficial, a self-care journal doesn’t need to focus on challenging content. Instead, fill it with gratitude and rambling ruminations on your day-to-day life.
3. Creating a personal and professional self-care journal
“Whether you’re keeping a journal or writing as a meditation, it’s the same thing. What’s important is you’re having a conversation with your mind.” —Natalie Goldberg
There are many different ways to outline a self-care journal, so base your approach on your personality, as well as the time and effort you want to put into it. Some therapists will thrive writing in an outlined approach that is the same daily. Think of sections titled: Date, Feelings, Experiences. Others better embrace a blank page so they can create something new in every entry.
A purge self-care journal
Writing collects thoughts. And purging them is sometimes necessary for a counselor. So, you have permission to get it all out. Write down anything that comes to mind. You might find some entries go for pages while others are a few simple paragraphs. There are no rules, so do what feels right.
A gratitude self-care journal
If journaling doesn’t come readily for you, consider the practice of written gratitude instead. Every day write down something for which you’re thankful. Write everything you appreciate in a new blank journal, in a planner, or by using an online tool, such as Day One.
An art self-care journal
An art journal is a combination of artwork and words. The artwork can be hand drawn, taped in, digital with graphics, scrapbooked, or created in any way your muse sees fit. It’s a mixed media approach to getting your feelings and thoughts down on paper.
A fill-in-the-blanks self-care journal
Introspection is like exercise. It takes effort and regular practice to develop a routine. If you’re not the type of person who finds value in story-form journaling, create a form or document where you can just jot down a few words to process your emotions on a daily basis. You may find yourself writing more than you expect over time.
4. Confidentiality in journaling
One final note: while your journal is for personal reflection and processing, it’s important to keep your client’s personal information out of it. It’s fair to process your thoughts by saying something like, “I just finished a tough session with a client who had been assaulted,” but keep the client’s name, initials, or any identifying information out of your self-care journal. Your journal is a private space for you to process your thought patterns, not rehash what happens in a session.
We know how important confidentiality is, which is why we built SimplePractice as a secure space to run your business. Use SimplePractice to upload and store your images, documents and any other type of file in your client records, and be at ease knowing it’s all secure and confidential. Try us free for 30 days.
Do you keep a self-care journal? Can you share any tips with our community? Please share in the comments section.