Professional Development for Mental Health Practitioners

20 professional development ideas for counselors, social workers, and other mental health clinicians

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

Professional development encompasses all activities that provide or strengthen professional knowledge/skills. Ongoing professional development is a requirement for mental health practitioners in order to maintain competency and for keeping up-to-date on the latest research and evidence-based practices in an ever-changing field.

Listed below are several ideas for counselor professional development.

1 Find a mentor (and meet with them at least once a month).

2 Sign up for relevant e-mail lists. A few I find the most helpful/informative: Brain & Behavior Foundation, National Institute of Mental Health, and SAMHSA.

3 Become a member of a professional organization (i.e. American Counseling Association).

4 Keep up-to-date on the latest research. If you are a member of a professional organization, take advantage of your member benefits; you likely have access to a professional journal. You can also browse sites like ScienceDaily or use an app like Researcher.

5 Facilitate professional trainings or manage a booth at a conference.

6 Read counseling and psychology books (such as On Being a Therapist by Kottler or Mindsight by Siegel).

7 Practice awareness. Know your values, limitations, and personal biases.

8 Become familiar with local resources in your community.

9 Volunteer.

10 Join a professional counseling forum and participate in discussions. The ACA has several. You could also go the reddit route (i.e. r/psychotherapy).

11 Review your professional code of ethics on a regular basis. (Link to the ACA Code.)

12 Attend webinars, trainings, and conferences. Stay informed by subscribing to email lists, participating in professional forums, and searching Eventbrite for local events; search “mental health.” PESI is another source, but the seminars can be costly.

13 Network/consult.

14 Subscribe to psychology magazines like Psychology Today or Psychotherapy Networker.

15 Further your education by taking classes or earning a certificate.

16 Pick a different counseling skill to strengthen each week. (You can even use flashcards to pick a new skill or simply review!)

17 Write an article or book (or book review!)

18 Take free online courses.

19 Listen to podcasts (like Therapy Chat or Counselor Toolbox).

20 Practice self-care on a regular basis to prevent burnout. Why is self-care included in a post on professional development? Because self-care is crucial for counselor wellness; a counselor experiencing burnout puts his/her clients at risk.

12-Step Recovery Groups

An extensive list of support groups for recovery

Compiled by Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

There are a variety of 12-step (and similar) support groups for recovery. 12-step meetings are not facilitated by a therapist; they’re self-run. Support groups are not a substitute for treatment, but can play a crucial role in recovery.

The following list, while not comprehensive, will link you to both well-known and less-familiar 12-step organizations. (Note: This post does not include online-only communities.)

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Narcotics Anonymous (NA)

Cocaine Anonymous (CA)

Marijuana Anonymous (MA)

Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA)

Nicotine Anonymous (NicA)

Al-Anon/Alateen (For Family and Friends of Alcoholics)

Nar-Anon (For Family and Friends of Addicts)

Families Anonymous (FA)

NAMI Family Support Group (For Adults with Loved Ones Who Have Experienced Mental Health Symptoms)

Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA)/Dysfunctional Families

Adult Survivors of Child Abuse Anonymous (ASCAA)

Survivors of Incest Anonymous

SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training)

Women for Sobriety

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)

LifeRing Secular Recovery

Celebrate Recovery (A Christ-Centered 12-Step Program)

Co-dependents Anonymous (CoDa)

Emotions Anonymous

Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA)

Sexaholics Anonymous

Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA)

S-Anon/S-Ateen (For Family and Friends of Sexaholics)

Dual Recovery Anonymous

Depressed Anonymous

Self Mutilators Anonymous

PTSD Anonymous

Overeaters Anonymous (OA)

Food Addicts Anonymous (FAA)

Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous

Recovery from Food Addiction

Eating Disorders Anonymous (EDA)

Clutters Anonymous (CLA)

Debtors Anonymous (DA)

Underearners Anonymous (UA)

Workaholics Anonymous

Gamblers Anonymous

Online Gamers Anonymous (OLGA)


Do you know of a 12-step support group not listed here? Share in a comment!

Boundaries: Thoughts on Building and Maintaining “Good Fences”

Why is it important to set and adhere to healthy boundaries? How can you tell if yours are weak?

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

“Good fences make good neighbors.”

Robert Frost

When I picture a boundary, I imagine drawing a circle with a stick in the dirt… with me in the middle. I stay in; everyone else stays out. Boundaries are protective; they keep us safe. Without boundaries, you have no limits, no sense of direction. Without boundaries, you open yourself up… anyone can come in, with good or bad intentions.

If you have poor boundaries in a dating relationship, you could end up doing things you’re not comfortable with. Or, another example might be with your boss; if you don’t set firm limits, you could end up taking one extra tasks.

I once worked with a client who regularly violated his partner’s boundaries by yelling, “Phone check!” whenever he wanted to check his girlfriend’s cell. She’d hand it over and he’d review her calls/read her texts. It was a boundary violation for sure. Everyone has a right to privacy. (That being said, your partner never has the right to go through your phone, read your journal, request your social media passwords, etc. Those are all boundary violations; they could also indicate that the relationship is in trouble.)

Another way to conceptualize a boundary is to picture mosquito netting. It keeps the mosquitoes out, but it’s flexible and lightweight. It lets in air, sunlight, a cool breeze… A mosquito net is a healthy boundary. If you were to instead build a brick structure, you’d be doing a lot of unnecessary work and you’d probably still get bit.  

It’s best to be up front and honest about the boundaries you set (which requires assertiveness). With your boss, the first time he asks if you can stay late on a Friday, you might end up saying yes. (It’s probably just a onetime thing, right?) Seeing that you don’t say no the first time, he may continue to ask you to stay late or take on extra work. The alternative (boundary-setting) option would be to say (when he first asks), “I’m sorry, although I’d love to be able to, I have a policy against being away from home on Fridays. It’s family night at my house.” It’s unlikely he’ll ask you again because you very firmly (and politely) set a boundary.

On the other hand, if you’re passionate about your career, you could be flexible and stay late (especially if you’re hoping for a promotion or a raise) without feeling as though your boundaries have been violated. The important thing is to know where you stand (i.e. what your boundary is).

Equally important to setting boundaries is adhering to them once they’re established. There are people out there who love to test boundaries. A boundary is useless without follow through. Your boundary becomes meaningless if you say you’re not going to do something and then you do it anyway. If you tell your child “no candy before dinner,” but then finally give in after several bouts of dramatic tears, you’re sending a message. The message is “When I say no, I don’t mean it.” It’s important to be consistent with boundaries.

Signs of Weak Boundaries

  • A lack of assertiveness
  • Altering your personal values for someone (especially in a romantic relationship)
  • Having a sexual relationship with someone when you’re not ready
  • Not being able to say “no”
  • Trusting others quickly (when it’s not warranted)
  • Falling in love quickly or believing an acquaintance is your best friend when you only met the day before

Rigid boundaries, on the other hand, are at the opposite end of the spectrum. A person with rigid boundaries doesn’t trust easily or let others in. It would be difficult to be in an intimate relationship with a person with rigid boundaries.

How to Develop Healthy Boundaries

Firstly, know that it will take time. Be patient with yourself and don’t criticize yourself if you fall back into old habits.

Recognize (and accept) your right to establish and adhere to personal boundaries. Read one of Dr. Cloud’s books on boundaries or Melody Beattie’s Codependent No More. Personally, I like Co-dependents Anonymous’ recovery literature. It’s an easy read (four pages) and you can access it for free.

If you haven’t already, take time to clarify your values. You can do a values sort – there are plenty of free resources online. It’s something I frequently do with my clients. What’s most important to you? Family? Integrity? Kindness? Have unhealthy boundaries affected this value in the past? (If kindness is most important to you, and you identify as a “people pleaser,” consider all the times you’ve been unkind to yourself. Explore ideas for practicing kindness to both others and self.)

Also, deliberate on the behaviors you find unacceptable (in terms of how you’re treated). Looking back on past relationships, I dated men who cheated on me, called me names, were mean to my friends, and yes, even checked my phone. Completely unacceptable. At this point in my life, I have a zero tolerance policy.

When you establish boundaries, especially with those who don’t expect it (i.e. your mother-in-law or the neighbor who regularly lets his dog romp through your garden), anticipate some push back. It probably won’t feel good in the moment.

Practice assertiveness. Don’t back down. If someone is particularly resistant, don’t engage in an argument.  You don’t owe an explanation. You don’t even have to respond. Remain calm; walk away if needed. If it helps, pre-plan your exact wording. (“I’m sorry, but I’m no longer able to stay till 9 on Fridays. Unexpected circumstances at home won’t allow it.”) Be concise. Don’t be overly apologetic.

If the person you’re setting boundaries with is a significant other or family member, I’d recommend transparency. Let them know that you’re going to make some changes. Share how unhealthy boundaries have negatively impacted you. (Give specific examples if you can.) Don’t place blame. Talk about how healthy boundaries will positively impact not just you,but the relationship. It may still be difficult. There may be some tension; the relationship might feel strained. (And it’s okay.)

If you set boundaries and find them repeatedly violated; firstly, take a step back and reevaluate the situation. Have you been clear and consistent? If so, you may want to consider spending less time with this person or even ending the relationships. Unfortunately, while you can set boundaries, you can’t force someone to respect them.


In sum, boundaries are imperative. Skin is a boundary that keeps other organs in place; it shields our body systems from toxins, viruses, and bacteria that would otherwise be deadly. It keeps the bad stuff out (and the good stuff in). Healthy boundaries are our emotional skin. If you need a boundaries tune up, it could take some effort, but is well worth it. You’ll experience increased satisfaction in your relationships and will feel more confidence.Your overall well-being will improve; boundaries are freeing – by communicating your needs, it’s less likely you’ll feel angry or resentful. And lastly, you’ll find that others have a greater level of respect for you. “Good fences,” it would seem, are not limited to neighbors!

Mental Health, Wellness, and Personal Development Blogs to Follow

A list of 30+ mental health, wellness, and personal development blogs

Compiled by Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

Updated April 9, 2019

blogs to follow

Creating Mind ReMake Project opened my eyes to a whole world of blogs! There are tons of informative and thought-provoking blog sites out there that share my “niche.” This post lists a variety of blogs related to mental health, wellness, and personal development.

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  1. ACA Counseling Corner Blog

“Thoughtful ideas, suggestions, and strategies for helping you to live a happier and healthier life”

 

  1. Aim Hypnotherapy Blog

Therapist and blogger Aigin Larki blogs about anxiety, addiction, stress, and other mental health topics

  1. Anxiety Free World

A blog about coping with anxiety

  1. Beyond Meds

Award-winning blog written by ex-patient and mental health professional, Monica Cassani, on topics related to psychotropic meds and mental health

  1. Blue Light Blue

Amy McDowell Marlow, a 22-year survivor of suicide loss who lives with mental illness (bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder), blogs about living with mental illness

  1. Brave Over Perfect

Dr. Christine Carter and Susie Rinehart write about personal growth topics

  1. Brené Brown Blog

Personal growth and development blog

  1. David’s Blog

Dr. David Healy is a psychiatrist, psychopharmacologist, scientist, and author who blogs about pharmacology and mental health

  1. Dr. David Susman Blog

A clinical psychologist, mental health advocate, professor, and writer shares resources and inspiration for better mental health

  1. Dr. Melissa Welby Blog

Psychiatry and well-being 

  1. Dr. Sarah Ravin Blog

A clinical psychologist blogs about psychological issues and evidence-based treatments

  1. Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board News

If you live in Fairfax County, VA, sign up for CSB news to receive updates and links to helpful resources

  1. The Fractured Light

Living with borderline personality disorder

  1. Gardening Love

A unique wellness and lifestyle blog about enhancing mental health and well-being through gardening

  1. Healthy Place Blogs

A collection of mental health blogs

  1. Heather LeGuilloux Blog

A therapist blogs about mental health topics

  1. Info Counselling – Evidence based therapy techniques

Learn about the latest evidence-based treatments and download free therapy worksheets

  1. Kim’s Counseling Corner

Kim Peterson, a licensed professional counselor, created Kim’s Counseling Corner, a site with a variety of free downloadable resources for clinicians

  1. Love and Life Toolbox

Award-winning blog founded by Lisa Brookes Kift, marriage and family therapist, about marriages, relationships, and emotional health

  1. Mindcology

Mental health and self-help posts written by psychologists, counselors, and other mental health practitioners

  1. The Mighty

“A digital health community created to empower and connect people facing health challenges and disabilities”

  1. Momentus Institute Blog

A blog dedicated to building and repairing the social emotional health of children

  1. MQ Blog

A blog about transforming mental health care through research

  1. My Brain’s Not Broken

Living with mental illness

  1. NAMI Blog

Advocacy blog

  1. On Being Patient

Personal accounts of living with mental illness

  1. Our Parent Place

A place for parents with mental illness to connect and learn 

  1. PsychCentral Mental Health and Psychology Blogs

Blog posts by experts, professionals, and ordinary people who share their insights on a variety of mental health topics

  1. Psychology Today Blogs

A large collection of blogs on psychology-related topics, including creativity, intelligence, memory, parenting, and more

  1. SAMHSA Blog

“A place where up-to-date information including articles from SAMHSA staff, announcements of new programs, links to reports, grant opportunities, and ways to connect to other resources are located”

  1. A Splintered Mind

Douglas Scootey blogs about “overcoming ADHD and depression with lots of humor and attitude”

  1. Survival Is a Talent

“A digital platform for individuals to share their Stories of Survival relating to health and wellness”

  1. Thriving While Disabled

A blog about living with a disability

  1. Your Brain Health 

Dr. Sarah McKay, neuroscientist and blogger, writes about topics related to neurology and mental health


Also consider:

Janaburson’s Blog

A blog created to help people better understand the medication-assisted treatment of opioid addiction using either buprenorphine (Suboxone) or methadone from a physician, board-certified in Internal Medicine and Addiction Medicine

Pete Earley

Advocacy blog for mental health reform


Know of a great blog? Post in a comment!

4 Strategies for Better Decision-Making

Individuals with “big picture” styles of reasoning make better decisions. Learn four strategies for “big picture” thinking to get optimal results.

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

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A recent study found that individuals with a “big picture” style of thinking made better decisions. (“Better” decisions were defined as those resulting in maximum benefits.)

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If you took the Myers-Briggs (a personality assessment), and fell on the “Intuition” side of the spectrum (like me!), it’s likely you’re already a “big picture” thinker. If you’re on the “Sensing” side, you’re more apt to examine individual facts before considering the sum of all parts.

“Big picture” thinking is a practical and balanced method of reasoning. It suggests taking a step back (zoom out!)… and looking to see how all pieces fit together.

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The following strategies promote “big picture” thinking:

 

1. Get a good night’s rest

Researchers from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found that sleep is essential for “relational memory” (or the ability to make inferences, i.e. “big picture” thinking).

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Before making a tough decision, sleep on it; you’ll wake up with a new perspective! In addition to healthy sleep hygiene, the following strategies have been found to improve sleep:

 

2. Don’t deliberate for long

Research indicates that when weighing out options, it’s ideal to take small breaks. Don’t deliberate for long periods of time or you’ll start to lose focus. If things become fuzzy, you won’t see the big picture.

 

3. Bay day = bad decision

One study found that a positive mood is related to a “big picture” thinking style. Good moods are associated with broader and more flexible thinking. A positive mood enables someone to step back emotionally, psychologically distancing themselves from the decision at hand.

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If you’re feeling salty, hold off on making that decision. Instead, try one (or all!) of the following research-based techniques for boosting your mood:

 

4. Get a second opinion

Ask around to learn how others’ view your situation. Every perspective you collect is another piece of the “big picture” puzzle.

Seek opinions from those you trust (only those who have your best interests in mind). Make sure you ask a variety of people (especially those with whom you typically disagree). The end result is a broader and more comprehensive awareness of what you’re facing.

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Employ all four strategies to optimize your thinking style and decision-making skills!


References

American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2010, April 4). Maintaining regular daily routines is associated with better sleep quality in older adults. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100401085336.htm

American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2008, June 12). Moderate Exercise Can Improve Sleep Quality Of Insomnia Patients. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080611071129.htm

American Chemical Society (ACS). (2012, August 19). Good mood foods: Some flavors in some foods resemble a prescription mood stabilizer. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 10, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120819153457.htm

American Psychological Association. (2018, April 23). Let it go: Mental breaks after work improve sleep: Repetitive thoughts on rude behavior at work results in insomnia. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180423110828.htm

Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care. (2012, May 14). A walk in the park gives mental boost to people with depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120514134303.htm

Berman, M. G., Kross, E., Krpan, K. M., Askren, M. K., Burson, A., Deldin, P. J., Kaplan, S., Sherdell, L., Gotlib, I. H., & Jonides, J. (2012). Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2012.03.012

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. (2007, April 21). To Understand The Big Picture, Give It Time – And Sleep. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 17, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070420104732.htm

Black, D. S., O’Reilly, G. A., Olmstead, R., Breen, E. C., & Irwin, M. R. (2015). Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances. JAMA Internal Medicine, DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8081

Curry, O., Rowland, L., Zlotowitz, S., McAlaney, J., & Whitehouse, H. (2016). Happy to help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor. Open Science Framework

Demsky, C. A. et al. (2018). Workplace incivility and employee sleep: The role of rumination and recovery experiences. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, DOI: 10.1037/ocp0000116

The JAMA Network Journals. (2015, February 16). Mindfulness meditation appears to help improve sleep quality. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150216131115.htm

Labroo, A., Patrick, V., & Deighton, J. served as editor and Luce, M. F. served as associate editor for this article. (2009). Psychological distancing: Why happiness helps you see the big picture. Journal of Consumer Research, 35(5), 800-809. doi:10.1086/593683

Northwestern University. (2017, July 10). Purpose in life by day linked to better sleep at night: Older adults whose lives have meaning enjoy better sleep quality, less sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170710091734.htm

Ohio State University. (2018, July 13). How looking at the big picture can lead to better decisions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180713111931.htm

Spira, A. P. (2015). Being mindful of later-life sleep quality and its potential role in prevention. JAMA Internal Medicine, DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8093

Stillman, P. E., Fujita, K., Sheldon, O., & Trope, Y. (2018). From “me” to “we”: The role of construal level in promoting maximized joint outcomes. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 147(16), DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2018.05.004

Turner, A. D., Smith, C. E., & Ong, J. C. (2017). Is purpose in life associated with less sleep disturbance in older adults? Sleep Science and Practice, 1(1), DOI: 10.1186/s41606-017-0015-6

University of Michigan. (2009, June 3). Feeling Close To a Friend Increases Progesterone, Boosts Well-being and Reduces Anxiety and Stress. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090602171941.htm

University of Oxford. (2016, October 5). Being kind to others does make you ‘slightly happier’. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161005102254.htm

Zisberg, A., Gur-Yaish, N., & Shochat, T. (2010). Contribution of routine to sleep quality in community elderly. Sleep, 33(4), 509-514.

 

 

11 Self-Care Ideas You May Not Have Considered

Self-care is a vital piece of the wellness puzzle. This post is intended for the well-informed “self-carer,” who already knows about (and maybe even practices) deep breathing, massage, aromatherapy, etc. and wants to expand their horizons. This is also for people (like me) who don’t get much from your typical self-care practices (i.e. lighting a scented candle).

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

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Self-care is a vital piece of the wellness puzzle. As a mental health professional, I practice self-care to prevent burnout. (Once a counselor reaches burnout, he/she is no longer able to fully meet a client’s needs; if you’re not taking care of yourself, how are you going to help someone else?)

To illustrate the importance of self-care, consider a vehicle; it requires ongoing maintenance for optimal performance and safety. Similarly, we require self-care. It’s a concept that encompasses a variety of needs, including health, solitude, human connection, self-love, spiritualty, and more.

I’ve read many articles, posts, and books on self-care; there’s a wealth of information out there. Commonplace self-care tips, such as taking a bubble bath or meditating, make up the majority of posts on the topic; but unoriginal content has no place here. And to be honest, some (okay, a lot!) of the ideas make me want to roll my eyes. (Lighting a scented candle? Nope, not gonna do it for me.)

This post is intended for the well-informed “self-carer,” who already knows about (and maybe even practices) deep breathing, massage, aromatherapy, etc. and wants to expand their horizons. This is also for people (like me) who don’t get much from your typical self-care practices.

Here are 11 unique ideas:

1. Create an inspirational scrapbook or a “bliss book” 

Any time you happen upon something that makes you smile, inspires you, or motivates you, add it to your scrapbook (or journal or binder). Maybe it’s a photo, a happy thought you jot down, or a magazine article. Alternatively, you could create a “bliss board” on Pinterest.

Creating a bliss book (or board) has the potential to generate positivity and compassion. Whenever you need an emotional pick-me-up, flip through your scrapbook. Share it with others to generate a double dose of cheer!

2. Plan a trip 

If you can’t take a vacation, you can at least plan! Preparation is half the fun (for me, at least)! Look up places you’d like to travel and research things to do there. Create an itinerary. Set a tentative travel date (even if it’s years from now) so you have something to look forward to.

3. Poop in public bathrooms (without shame)! 

If you’re one of those people who avoid going number 2 in public bathrooms, stop. Holding in your poop is uncomfortable and may result in constipation. If you’re embarrassed about the smell, carry a travel-sized container of Poo-Pourri. If it’s the sound that makes you anxious, run the water or flush as you go. When your body tells you it’s time to go, listen! 

4. Treat yourself to a monthly subscription box 

I love getting mystery packages in the mail! It’s akin to receiving a care package when you’re a kid at summer camp. And when it comes to subscription boxes, there are many to choose from. Currently, I subscribe to four: Ispy (5 makeup samples in a cute makeup bag for $10), PLAY! by Sephora (5-6 makeup samples for $10), Trendsend (5-8 clothing items and no styling fee!), and StitchFix (a mix of 5 clothing items, shoes, and accessories with a $20 styling fee – fee is deducted from total).

Subscription boxes are fun and a great way for me to build a professional wardrobe and to try new makeup products. (Disclaimer: I receive a referral bonus if you sign up for a subscription service via one of my links.)

5. Sort through childhood toys or photos

Allow yourself time to reminisce. My sister and I recently went through a box of old dolls and stuffed animals; it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. It released a flood of happy memories and it felt great to laugh. (We chuckled over my Barbie dolls, which all had short, spiky hair; I was a very literal child, so when my sister declared “Barbie haircut day,” I took it to heart. My sister, on the other hand, only pretended to snip her Barbies’ hair. I cried rivers that day.)

I also enjoy looking at old family photos. See below for a pic from the year my mom went on a mission to create the perfect Christmas photo letter (the kind moms send out to impress relatives and old friends). “Fred the Christmas Goose” didn’t make the cut.

6. Create something

Practicing holistic self-care means stretching your mind; you benefit from the challenge. Avoid stagnation by stepping outside your comfort zone. Feed your creative side by building a chair, writing a song, painting a picture, knitting a scarf, or putting together a model.

Personally, I enjoy creating art; while not entirely lacking in talent, I’m no Picasso. Most of my projects are equivalent to the work one would accredit to a moderately talented 8-year old. Every once in awhile, I’m pleasantly surprised. (See below for a sketch I posted on Instagram.) Drawing or painting elicits a sense of accomplishment; it’s something I feel good about. Acknowledging your contributions builds self-esteem and confidence.

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@levgrossman

A post shared by Cassie Jewell (@cjewell82) on

7. Engage with a stranger, an acquaintance, a friend, or a family member

Establishing meaningful human connection is essential for wellness. To make the most of this tip, try something you normally wouldn’t. (For example, chatting with a stranger is not my norm. To practice this tip, I’d strike up a conversation with my seatmate on a plane [providing, of course, that they’re open to friendly conversation.) Practicing self-care means building (or strengthening) connections. 

8. Go exploring 

As a child, nothing thrilled my soul quite like adventure; I explored by trampling through the woods behind my house, traversing streams and following hidden trails. My adventures often involved the discovery of “treasure,” an odd rock or ruins of some sort. Today, I’m just as adventurous; however, I spend less time crashing through woods and more time traveling the world.

Exploration promotes curiosity, which is essential for growth. If you’re not a fan of outdoor activities like hiking or backpacking, try exploring a city or neighborhood. Consider driving through unfamiliar developments. Explore restaurants or shops in your town. Whatever you decide, pursue it with the enthusiasm of the 6-year old adventurer you once were.

9. Redecorate your office or a room in your home to make it soothing, energizing, or inspiring

Every time you’re in the room, you’ll experience positive vibes. Paint the walls, add plants, declutter, hang a portrait, change the curtains, create a rock garden, etc. – whatever promotes positivity.

10. Change something about yourself

There’s a lot to be said for loving yourself, flaws and all. On the flip side, if there’s something you’re extremely unhappy with, consider changing it. If you’re overweight and have tried every sort of diet, but still can’t shed those pounds, talk to a doctor about weight loss surgery or schedule an appointment with a plastic surgeon. If you’re tired of feeling sluggish and lacking energy, adjust your sleep schedule, diet, and exercise routine (and make sure you see a doctor to rule out a medical issue). If you’re constantly broke, get a second job or find another way to bring in income; enroll in financial courses or schedule an appointment with a financial advisor.

Sometimes, self-care involves drastic change. If you’re deeply troubled over some aspect of your life, and it’s something you’re unable to accept, change it (while recognizing it will require work!) This is your life; take action.

Note: This tip is only for things you have control over; recognize what you can and cannot change. For example, I don’t like my flabby arms; if this bothered me enough, I could lift weights to develop muscle tone. I also dislike my neck; it’s not long enough. Unfortunately, short of brass neck coils (which border on self-harm), there’s nothing I can do. It’s not worth brooding over. (That being said, when contemplating any major change, especially ones involving surgery or substantial amounts of money, ask, “Is this change for me alone or am I seeking outside approval?” The essence of self-care is the self; it’s for you and you alone.)

11. Adopt a healthy habit (or quit a bad one) 

This idea embodies delayed-gratification self-care vs. instant-gratification self-care (i.e. sipping a mug of tea or gazing at the stars). And while both types of self-care are important, the rewards associated with a healthy habit are life-changing (vs. “mildly pleasant”).

According to research, there are five lifestyle habits associated with a low risk of illness and longer life expectancy. If you’re serious about self-care (and want more bang for your buck), adopt one (or all) of the following practices:

Eat a healthy diet

Exercise regularly

Maintain a healthy body weight

Drink alcohol in moderation (or not at all)

Don’t smoke

A healthy lifestyle is the foundation of self-care!

Share your favorite strategies for self-care in a comment!


 

What Counseling Has Taught Me (Part Two)

Learn to be more effective in your personal and professional life! This is the second installment of how counseling has led to a better understanding of people. Working with addiction and mental illness has gifted me with the capacity to better recognize why people do what they do, which in turn enhances how I relate to others.

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

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This is the second installment of how counseling has led me to a better understanding of people. (In Part One, I discussed calmness, silence, active listening, partial truths, and hidden agendas.)

Working with addiction and mental illness has gifted me with the capacity to better recognize why people do what they do, which in turn enhances how I relate to others. As a result, I’m more effective in my personal and professional life. I have a sense of peace and “okayness” in the world.

One thing I hadn’t previously considered was brought up by Quora user and mental health professional, G. Bernard (MA Counseling); he shared that counseling revealed the truth about change. “It has really reinforced that idea that people who want change will work harder to achieve it; those who are forced (legally, by parents, spouse etc.) probably won’t.” I agree with this 100%. People can’t be forced into change; and when they are, their efforts lack fortitude and it doesn’t last. Those who are internally motivated will fight for change, making it worthwhile and enduring.

Here are some additional truths and realizations that I gained through my counseling career.

What counseling has taught me (the second installment):

1. A new perspective

The DSM – Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the “Bible” for mental health professionals) – uncovered a whole new world for me. Sure, I was familiar with mental illnesses like depression, PTSD, and anxiety before grad school. I took Abnormal Psych in college and even before that, I’d read books on schizophrenia, eating disorders, and other mental disorders. (Guess who did their middle school science project on schizophrenia? Me!) But my fleeting knowledge was laughable compared to what I found in the DSM; it provided me with information on every single diagnosable mental disorder. When I started working with clients, I was able to see how mental illness manifests in real life.

The more I learned (and saw), the more I was able to make sense of behaviors. Consequently, this led to me looking back on people I’ve encountered throughout the years. I realized how many of them had been struggling with a mental illness. (At the time, I probably just thought they were just a jerk, or acting inconsiderately.)

I also became more aware of the prevalence of severe mental illness and the way it presents in society. This led to increased tolerance and patience regarding behaviors I’d previous found annoying; I learned to recognize them for what they were.

Mental illness can easily be interpreted as something it’s not. By having an awareness, I’m more compassionate. Instead of judging, I observe. Someone who seems snobby may have social anxiety. That coworker who calls out sick every Monday may be struggling with addiction. A friend who never wants to go out anymore could be depressed.

Mental illness is everywhere if you know what to look for. I strive to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, which is better for my mental health.

2. Don’t give money to the homeless

I knew a client at a residential program with a talent for making clever signs. He’d use markers to write his message (“Will dance for food!”) on a piece of cardboard before grabbing his pail to hit the streets. He didn’t need the money; he received government benefits (funded by taxpayers). The money he earned panhandling funded his K2 habit or the occasional beer.

Many of the “homeless” people you meet are not homeless; they’re con men (or women) who make a profit on your sympathy. Most are either addicted to drugs/alcohol and/or severely mentally ill; they need treatment, not the crinkled dollar bill in your pocket. Giving your spare change isn’t helping that person. Instead, offer to buy a meal, give them a pair of socks, or hand them a bottle of water.

3. Telling someone what to do is not helpful

Giving advice rarely leads to lasting change.

There are a few different reasons why advice, no matter how well-meaning, isn’t helpful. Firstly, it doesn’t account for the person’s full experience or struggle; it could seem ignorant or insensitive. (For example, “Why don’t you just get a divorce?” is not helpful to a woman struggling with her husband’s infidelity; the problem is more complex than just getting a divorce. Children could be involved. Maybe she’s financially dependent on her husband. Maybe she’s still in love with him. Or maybe it’s against her religious beliefs.)

Advice also robs a person of the ability to solve their own problem. We need to learn to find solutions in life in order to grow and to be effective. If someone is always told what to do, they’re not going to learn to function independently.

Lastly, if advice is taken, and it works, the credit goes to the advice giver, not the taker. The results are less meaningful. Alternatively, if advice is taken and it doesn’t work, it becomes the advice giver’s fault. Advice deprives a person of being able to take full ownership of their actions.

If you own your decision and fail, the blame falls on you (helping you to grow as a person) or if you succeed, the triumph is yours alone. Either way, you’re better off finding your own solutions; this allows you to feel capable and you’ll become better at solving problems in the future.

4. The value of transparency and honesty

People like to know what’s happening and what to expect. I get better reactions from clients when I explain why I’m doing or saying what I am. I’m honest, and when I can’t be (or believe it would be inappropriate to do so), I tell clients exactly that. For example, if a client asks about my religion, I’d let them know I don’t feel comfortable sharing personal aspects of my life.

Personally, I prefer the company of others who are straightforward. I don’t like having to guess if someone is upset with me. I don’t like it when someone is nice to my face, but gossips when I’m not around. Those types of games are played by people who are insecure or who are attempting to manipulate you. Life is complicated enough. With me, you’ll know if your fly is down, and if you ask for my opinion, you’ll get it. (There’s much to be said for tact though!) Gentle truths are worth more than flattery. 

5. You can’t demand respect

It’s something that’s earned through words and actions, not freely given. Forced respect is not true respect; it’s fear or deception. And while I believe in treating everyone with respect, I don’t truly respect someone until I know what kind of person they are.

Furthermore, I’ve learned that if someone chooses to disrespect me, it’s not a threat. Respect is powerful, but disrespect? Feeble and pathetic. If someone is disrespectful, it won’t harm you or make you less of a person (unless you give it that control).

Throughout my career, I’ve been disrespected on many, many occasions by clients who don’t want to be in treatment (and even by colleagues with differing opinions). But my sense of self-worth is not dependent on how others treat me. As a result, disrespect from angry clients (or rude salespersons or drivers who cut me off, etc.) doesn’t faze me.

In sum, being a counselor is life-changing. I imagine many professions are to a degree, but I can’t picture any other job leading to such a deep understanding of humanity. Entering the mental health field is like having horrible vision and then finally getting glasses (except it happens over the course of years). I have an enhanced awareness of who I am along with an unforeseen sense of serenity. 

Every single client who’s shared a piece of their story has contributed to my awareness (and to my own personal growth), and I owe them each a gratitude. I’m more cautious in life, yes, but I’m also more compassionate. Instead of having high expectations, I have high hopes. I don’t attempt to control things I have no control over; and I don’t get angry over the decisions, views, or actions of others. Instead, I channel my energy into something more productive; I’m passionate and I’m an advocate. My beauty pageant answer to the stereotypical question is not “world peace”; it’s for everyone to have a deeper understanding of each other.

What insights have you gained from your chosen career? Please share in a comment!