Taking Care of the Counselor
Jim Seckman, MAC, CACII, CCS
Georgia School of Addiction Studies
TIPS FOR STRONG TEAMS
Encourage involvement and interaction of all members
You are all working for the same goals
Take responsibility for your area of expertise and your job
It takes everyone to provide the best
Meet regularly together to discuss clients
Be available to help other staff
Foster a sense of safety and trust in the team
Ask for Help
It is not shameful to be honest about our limitations-You can’t know everything
Use the team to help in all situations
Respect Each Other
Respect everyone’s differing areas of expertise
Everyone is accountable for their area of expertise
Practice open and honest communication
Keep focused on current issues
Compliment and praise one another
Follow the Golden Rule
Never say anything negative about anyone else (especially to clients!)
SIGNS OF PROJECTIVE IDENTIFICATION AND
SPLITTING IN THE STAFF
Arguing over established Procedures and Policies
Some staff wanting to make exceptions for specific clients
A staff member(s) who feel they must “protect” or defend a specific client from other
Feeling like some staff are unkind/unfair to a specific client (splitting)
Being unkind/unfair to a specific client
Being overly kind to a specific client
Staff members acting out family roles (e.g. Hero, Scapegoat, Lost Child)
Irritability with other staff for insignificant reasons
DEALING WITH PROJECTIVE IDENTIFICATION AND
GET CLINICAL SUPERVISION!!
Work closely with the team (We need a unified approach)
Increase your awareness of your feelings towards the patients (e.g. anxiety, agitation,
sympathy, attraction, etc.)
The main point here is to examine our feelings towards the clients and, whether they are
positive or negative feelings, explore whether or not we are acting out the clients’
unresolved issues and negative feelings. We can then tailor our relationship and
interactions with them to avoid reenacting their conflicts and giving them a different
experience, thus giving them the responsibility for their lives.
Learn your triggers - Awareness of what kind of client triggers us, both positively and
negatively. (e.g. attractive young man or woman, borderline, bully, manipulative)
Remain objective with the clients
“Knowing others is wisdom. Knowing oneself is enlightenment.” Lao Tzu
Too often when we think about the stress in our lives, we look at, and want to change, the
external sources of our stress. But stress is not what happens to us, rather, it’s what
happen inside us. It’s not the circumstances that are stressful, it’s how we respond to the
circumstances with stress. So, while we should work to decrease circumstances that
increase stress in us, we need to examine how and why we view/engage/participate in life
and respond to our circumstances with a reaction of stress.
Work on your family of origin issues (e.g. anxiety, fears, shame, expectations,
perfectionism). Examine carefully and honestly how you act them out in the
“stressful” circumstances of your life.
(For example, what is your expectation of yourself re: hard work? Many people
have grown up in families where anything that wasn’t “hard work” was being
lazy, there is no in-between. That creates a dilemma of increasing cycles of
working and feelings of guilt and shame when we’re trying to relax.)
Work on clearly identifying the old messages that continue to drive you into
shame, anxiety, fear, perfectionism, etc. This may take some hard and difficult
work, with or without therapy.
Increase you awareness of the feeling you get when these messages hit you. Your
feelings are the best tool you’ve got!
Use the “Even though” formula.
Just insert the phrase “even though” into the middle of a sentence. The first part
of the sentence is behavior you need to do for yourself. The second part of the
sentence is the negative feeling that may arise in you as a result of the behavior.
So, for example,
I will take care of myself even though I feel guilty.
What you will notice as you practice this formula is that the positive self-
nurturing behaviors will begin to increase and the negative feelings will begin to
Carefully consider how you might self-sabotage through fear, chaos, compulsive
behaviors, attitudes, anger, etc.
Increase your self-awareness of self-defeating thoughts and behaviors; don’t
suppress them. You want to be aware of how you sabotage yourself, even though
it’s a painful process.
Take responsibility for you thoughts and behaviors and make changes.
Invest Yourself in Your Work
Invest – “To contribute time, energy, or effort to an activity or project, or undertaking in
the expectation of a benefit.”
Get rid of the “me vs. them” attitude (e.g. clinical vs. administrative). It will only
drain your strength and build resentments
Focus on the task at hand—be present in the present
Prioritize your tasks - Make lists of what’s needed
Clearly separate the urgent vs. the necessary
Doing your best benefits you (Be careful about passive-aggressive acting out; this
damages us as well as the company)
Maintain your boundaries
Be clear about what is our stuff vs. their stuff
Don’t work harder than they do for their recovery (don’t take responsibility for
what really belongs to them)
You’re not the source of their discomfort
Be realistic about the client’s progress/outcome
Watch your expectations!
Container Model (Bion) – As counselors we function as containers for clients’
issues until they are able to work on them. The problem is that we may not just
hold these issues temporarily, but take them as our own and act them out. The
clients may want us to take their negative feelings for them. But, we must not
keep them. The clients must work these issues out for themselves.
Don’t absorb/act out others’ anxiety (Sheldon Heath) (e.g. You can feel
depressed, but you don’t have to be depressed)
Work with the team (handout - Tips for Teams)
Remember - It is just a job!
Be Nice to Yourself
Work your program!
Know your strengths and limitations; work on improving your limitations and
practice your strengths. But don’t focus on your flaws
Be gentle with yourself
Perfection is for the gods. You ain’t one. Give yourself a break.
Take time off! Period.
Practice your hobby
Get enough sleep, rest and relaxation
Eat nutritionally balanced meals
Exercise to work off the effects of stress
Get regular physicals
Take time to “decompress” from work
Ask for what you need
Give yourself rewards and confirmation for good work rather than waiting for
validation from someone else
Have a support group
Avoid unnecessary stress when possible
Work your program!
Continue to get continuing education and training
Learn all you can - Knowledge gives us wisdom and strength
Keep up with the supervision
Learn all you can about Projection/Projective Identification. Increase your
awareness of the projective process and occurrences in your work. Learn all you
can about how your personality, style and responses interact with the clients’
Work on developing Gratitude, Patience and Faith. These are qualities that are not
necessarily intrinsic to us, but must be strengthened like a muscle.
Stay focused on priorities, gratitude, thanks, blessings and happiness
Focusing on gratitude helps us to be healthier, happier, more optimistic, rested
better able to help others
Keep a gratitude journal - What are your grateful for/Why?/Who was involved?
Express gratitude to others (start a kindness cycle)
Happy people are grateful – ungrateful people cannot be happy
Increase your gratitude awareness
Instead of trying to figure out what’s wrong, work on figuring out what’s right!
“Patience is something you do, not something you have or don’t have.” (Ryan)
“Impatience is a habit; so is patience. And by practicing being patient, you can increase
its presence in your life and your peace of mind.”
Patience is “the capacity to stop before you act so you’re clearly able to decide the best
course of action or choose the right words to say instead of simply reacting.”
Patience brings 3 qualities together:
Persistence – working steadily towards our goals and dreams
Serenity – calmness of spirit; keeping circumstances in perspective rather than
being fearful or angry
Acceptance – the ability to cope with obstacles graciously and respond to life’s
challenges with courage, strength and optimism.
“Patience is a decision we make again and again.”
Steps to strengthening patience:
1. Reframe the situation by asking yourself one question: How else could I look at
this situation that would increase the possibility of a good outcome or greater
peace of mind? “What you’re looking for is an interpretation that offers
possibility instead of panic, hope instead of hysteria. The payoff is a leap in your
ability to engage resourcefully with life when it doesn’t appear to be going your
2. Remind yourself that change is inevitable. When times are tough, it’s helpful to
remember that this, too, shall pass. Doing so gives you strength, hope and
patience needed to carry on.
3. Take yourself on a mental vacation. “If you’re in a situation that’s aggravating,
visualize the most peaceful place you can think of. See, hear and feel yourself
there. Rather than focusing on how long you have to wait, relish a chance to take
a quick daydream trip to a peaceful place.”
4. Keep a “pebble” in your pocket. When you start to feel irritation rise, move the
pebble from one pocket to the other to help interrupt the anger cycle and give
yourself a chance to regroup.
5. Ask for help. Lots of times we’re impatient because we’re overloaded. “There’s
no prize at the end of your life for doing too much, particularly in a frazzled
6. Start a patience movement. Thank others for being patient when you’ve been
the one holding up the line. “It will diffuse their tension and yours, and perhaps
encourage others to be more patient as well.”
7. Never say anything negative. Negative talk, whether it is about ourselves or
others or situations, is a poison that consumes us. Try not making negative
comments about yourself, others, or situations for a day and see how you feel.
Then start stretching out the time period. It takes practice. But the payoffs are
wonderful. One note: it doesn’t mean we are dishonest; we can speak the truth
Spirituality – The process of working for a deeper meaning and connection with self,
others, nature and a Higher Power
Is there a belief/practice/organizing/unifying principle in your life? Something
that you can apply your life and circumstances to that help you find a deeper
connection and make sense of life and what you do?
Don’t wait! - Practice some type of pattern of spirituality in your daily living,
rather than just reacting to circumstances
Use the 12-Steps in all areas of your life! They’re not just for addiction!
Love your Longing (May) – Learn to accept and embrace that part of you that is
restless and seeking
Meditate, pray, listen
Read inspiring literature
Hang around inspiring people
Create! Have a hobby that absorbs you.
Laugh! Cultivate your sense of humor
Talk out your worries and fears with someone you trust
Look at the bigger picture
There is almost no end to the books available to help us with our peace, growth and
health. These are some books that have been specifically helpful to me. I encourage you
to create your own list.
The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron
The Power of Patience - M.J. Ryan
Happiness is a Serious Problem – Dennis Prager
Coping with Your Anger – Andy Lester
The Art of Recovery – Mary Delaney
The Three Inner Voices – Richard Hartnett
The Tao of Pooh – Benjamin Hoff
Dealing with the Therapist’s Vulnerability to Depression – Sheldon Heath
Addiction and Grace – Gerald May
The Spirituality of Imperfection – Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham