Staying Sane as a Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counseling can be a rigorous field. Find tips toward keeping your sanity.


Managing work stress is difficult for anyone, but if you work in the field of mental health counseling, you have the added challenge of delving into others’ emotional turmoil as a matter of course.

It’s not always easy to think about your own mental health when trying to help others.

The relationships you develop with clients are certainly rewarding, but it may also be a challenge to put them out of your mind at the end of the day to make sure that you keep your own sanity.

Mental Health Counseling Career Tips

Particularly at the beginning of your mental health counseling career, maintaining a healthy work-life balance takes discipline, but ultimately makes you more capable of helping your clients in the long run. Here are a few basic tips that can help you stay sane, both on and off the job:

  • Take time to unwind at the end of the day. Whether this means sitting quietly in a room or taking the dog for a walk, you’ll find it easier to transition from work to home if you take a short break in between. Disengage with a simple meditation and clear your mind at the end of each day.
  • Exercise. Studies show that regular exercise relieves tension and offers myriad health benefits. Even if you don’t have time for an hour-long workout, a few 10- to 15-minute periods of physical activity during the day can keep your mind and body in good shape.
  • Focus on what’s going right. It’s too easy to dwell on the negative aspects of your daily work. Take the time to consider what is going right in your profession. Keep a success journal. At least weekly, jot down everything that’s gone well or everything you’ve accomplished. When a client says something positive about you, don’t overlook it—then, if you hit a low point, you can review the compliments you have received over the years.
  • Take time off. From setting aside an evening each week to indulge in your favorite hobby to making sure you fit in two or three weeks of vacation each year, setting aside time for yourself is one of the most important ways you can replenish your energy. If possible, try to take at least one vacation a year that’s 10 days or longer. Experts agree that vacations of a week or more offer the most health benefits, and they’re also the most relaxing.
  • Build a strong support system. As a mental health counselor, the last thing you might feel like doing at the end of the day is taking time to catch up with friends and family, but nurturing your own relationships will help keep you grounded. You may also find it helpful to meet regularly with colleagues, who know what your daily work is like, or even to get professional counseling of your own.
  • Referral is the best medicine. Don’t be afraid to refer patients whose problems lie outside your expertise. While accepting challenging cases may be a good idea sometimes, it doesn’t always benefit you or the client. Referring patients to the mental health counselors best able to help them is a win-win for everyone involved.
  • Recognize the signs of burnout. If you find yourself dreading going into the office, experiencing difficulty concentrating during the day or having a hard time convincing yourself that what you’re doing really matters, it’s time to take serious steps toward renewing your energy and regaining your sense of purpose. Whether this involves taking a long vacation or seeking professional help, don’t hesitate to do what it takes to take care of yourself.

Putting even a few of these suggestions into regular practice can make a big difference. Being able to maintain a healthy balance will give you longevity, and it’s that longevity as a mental health counselor that will allow you to help more people successfully.

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