Help! I’m an Emotionally Drained Counselor

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It’s one thing for counselors to feel the pain and struggle of their clients, but there’s a problem when the pain overwhelms begins to overwhelm them. Dr. Mike Emlet, counselor and faculty member at Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF), encourages counselors to be fully present and loving with people, but not at the expense of their own emotional health.   

Mike Emlet practiced as a family physician for 12 years before joining the CCEF. He holds an M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania as well as a Master of Divinity degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He has authored Asperger Syndrome, Help for the Caregiver, OCD, and Angry Children, and CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet.  

Mike said that as a counselor, if you’re not sometimes feeling emotionally drained, you’re probably not investing enough of yourself. God doesn’t call you to be an unaffected, stoic bystander. Jesus wasn’t. He had righteous anger, and he wept. Jesus was fully present, fully human with people.  

It’s right and good to feel for your patients and care for them deeply. Share a time you felt a healthy amount of concern for one of your patients. What were the circumstances? What moved you about their story?
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Mike said it is possible to become overwhelmed by your patients’ needs or over-invested in their struggle. Being emotionally drained as a counselor typically results from either internal or external factors. Internalizing too much of a client's problems contributes to internal, heart-related drain. External factors could include a particularly difficult season in your practice, whether financially or personally.  

Do you think you’re currently over-investing in, or internalizing, the struggles of one or more of your clients? How can you tell?
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Working through a lot of different issues with people such as marital problems or suicide can take its toll if several pile up all at once. Share an abnormally difficult season of your counseling where you had to listen to and help more people through suffering than usual. What toll did that take on you?
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Mike said the role of a counselor is to walk alongside people in need and offer biblical support. And it’s right for counselors for feel a sense of sadness and burden for what their patients are going through. It’s important for counselors to remember, though, that they are not the change agent. The Holy Spirit is responsible for providing ultimate guidance, counsel, and comfort to those who are hurting. 

In what ways have you experienced the Holy Spirit helping you or others in ways even the best counselors can’t?
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If you are feeling emotionally drained, you will need to find some ways to pull back from your work a bit and replenish yourself. This might include schedule changes or increasing your time at church or other meaningful places so you can receive the spiritual input you need. 

What changes can you make to your schedule to give yourself a break from the emotional stresses of work?
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Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Have you been spending enough time at church and in Christian community lately? If not, what do you need to do to re-engage with God so that you experience His rest as you work?
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Mike said it’s important to take a look at your own heart whenever you’re feeling emotionally drained in counseling. Your fatigue might be a sign of internal or external factors you can either control or cope with. 

As you continue in your counseling, remember that just as you want to care for others, God wants to care for you. Allow Him to give you rest and relief from the emotionally rich, yet taxing, work of counsel and see how He transforms you and your ministry. 

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