Refilling Your Cup: A School Counselor Self-Care Routine
By Taqueena S. Quintana, Ed.D. | January 2022
Self-care is a vital part of overall personal wellness and development. School counselors are charged with meeting the academic, career and social/emotional needs of diverse K–12 populations. More often than not, school counselors are the first to be called upon to support student concerns related to crises and trauma, which can be physically and mentally demanding and overwhelming. Shifting our work routine to consistently include self-care supports our own well-being and the well-being of those we serve.
Self-care is the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one's own health. As school counselors, we often spend much of our time caring for others with little to no replenishment. Many of us arrive at our school buildings early before work begins, leave after school hours when most of our colleagues are gone, and even bring our unfinished work home where we multitask personal and professional responsibilities.
School counselors are ethically responsible for engaging in self-care practices. Section B.f.3. of ASCA’s ethical standards states, “school counselors monitor their emotional and physical health and practice wellness to ensure optimal professional effectiveness. School counselors seek physical or mental health support when needed to ensure professional competence.” Adhering to this standard is especially necessary for school counselors, because we are constantly engaged in labor that is emotionally charged with high demands. Our role is unique and often requires us to wear multiple hats and address complex issues – many of which include legal responsibilities (e.g., 504s, IEPs, mandated reporting, threat of harm/risk assessments, McKinney-Vento, Title IX, court subpoenas, etc.). If we feel unequipped, overwhelmed or unfamiliar with navigating legal challenges, these responsibilities can increase our levels of stress, pressure and even fear. With increased student ratios, role ambiguity/confusion and daily unpredictability, many of us are spread thin, with little to no opportunity to care for ourselves in the process. As school counselors, having a daily routine that neglects our own needs can lead to serious personal and professional consequences.
Without self-care, continued stress places us at risk for burnout and impairment, which can potentially cause harm to our students. Common warning signs of burnout and impairment may include:
Chronic fatigue/low energy
Forgetfulness, impaired concentration and/or issues with attention
Detachment (e.g., pessimism, cynicism or self-isolation)
Loss of appetite
Burnout and impairment negatively affect our wellness and development and can lead to serious issues including loss of employment, revocation of licensure/certification and/or legal action. School counselors who prioritize their own wellness and engage in self-care are better prepared to meet the demands of the role and reduce the risk of stress, burnout and impairment.
One Step at a Time
Because self-care is an ongoing process, creating a consistent routine does not happen overnight. Be patient and kind with yourself as you walk this path, whether you are starting for the first time or are revisiting this journey after a pause. Below I suggest one of the many ways you can approach self-care to help you develop and implement an intentional, effective and sustainable routine.
Step 1: Assess. What are you currently doing to support your overall wellness and development on a day-to-day basis? What are your current self-care strengths and needs? Are you more active in some self-care areas than others? One of the first steps of including self-care in your daily work routine is to complete a self-care assessment. As school counselors, we are familiar with developing plans and programs based on school and student data, so think of this as a similar concept. Once you have completed the assessment, you can examine areas of strength and improvement.
Step 2: Plan. While many school counselors may have knowledge about self-care and the ability to articulate its importance to others, we often fail to connect our knowledge and action. Utilize the data from your assessment to identify self-care activities and develop a plan that works for you. Do not overwhelm yourself – just one self-care activity per day can make a positive impact. Setting short-term goals and identifying and addressing barriers to self-care is important during the planning phase. Be sure to continuously check in with yourself and update your plan as needed.
Step 3: Take Action. Execute your self-care plan. To help ensure consistency, you can schedule your daily self-care activities in a planner or journal, set an alarm, or even discuss it with others as a way to hold yourself accountable. Try not to limit yourself to one or two self-care days per week, because this promotes an imbalance – five days of work and only one to two days of self-care? See how the math isn’t adding up?
Final Thoughts – Shifting Your Mindset
Self-care requires you to shift your mindset in how you prioritize your well-being as a school counselor. It should not be a one-time event – consistency is key. Remember, caring for yourself does not take time away from your school counseling responsibility because self-care is a school counseling responsibility. Don’t forget to take care of yourself first.
Headspace. Headspace offers free access to all K–12 teachers, school administrators and supporting staff in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia. This app offers free exercises and resources for every age group. Podcasts and articles are available along with the “Headspace for Educators” Facebook Group.
Calm. The Calm app offers free CalmSchools resources including “30 Days of Mindfulness in the Classroom” – breathing, meditation and relaxation exercises equipped with lesson plans. CalmSchools also provides a self-care guide for educators.
Taqueena S. Quintana, Ed.D., LPC, NCC, ACS, BC-TMH, is an assistant professor at Antioch University. She is a licensed school counselor in New York, New Jersey, Maryland and the District Columbia. She is also a licensed professional counselor in the District of Columbia and Georgia. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.