Students in Crisis: Mitigating Staff & Faculty Burnout

*Special Note: This article is a preview of a live session that will be provided during MOM 2021 training on March 4th at 10:00am (link here).

As we reach nearly a year into the pandemic, faculty and staff continue to face stressors we’ve never encountered before. In addition, we are being asked to be strong and courageous for students who are also navigating these concerns. Our own experience plus the addition of supporting our students in crisis has created an environment uniquely poised for burnout.

As a mental health professional at a college, I spent my days supporting students in crisis because it was my job. And, while counselors can experience burnout (I certainly have!) we are also trained with some tips that help us mitigate that possibility. I thought I would share some of those tips with you here in the hopes that they may support our network of faculty and staff as we all work together to support students in this unique year.

Tips for Mitigating Staff & Faculty Burnout

Maintain a Mental Boundary Between Your Pain & Theirs: One of the most important things to keep in mind when you are supporting someone else in crisis is that it is theirs, not yours. It is possible to be present and empathetic without taking their pain on as your own. Remind yourself that strong feelings mean you care, not that you are also in crisis with them.

Do Not Rescue Students Alone: While we will technically be alone with students as they visit our office hours, stay after class, send an e-mail, etc., there is no reason to remain alone in our efforts to help. Bringing in a counselor, faith life staff, department head, or other student life personnel can be helpful. Even counselors bound by confidentiality will say to one another, “Had a tough session can we chat/go for a walk/grab a cup of coffee” just to know they are not alone. Helpers need helpers.

Believe and Affirm the Student’s Self-Efficacy: This is a powerful mindset when helping others. Even when they are struggling, we must remember that students are the experts of their own life. If we think our intervention is the only thing that can keep them from failing, that is a lot of pressure. We must remind ourselves (and them!) that they are far more capable than they realize. With support, most students will go on to figure out their situations and find a way forward.

Love Fixes a Lot: This may sound unscientific and mushy, but it is essential. Carl Rogers was a psychologist in the mid-1900s who emphasized the concept of “unconditional regard.” Basically, it was the idea that a client was most likely to improve, not because of some fancy psychological intervention, but if they really believed you cared about them. Just consistently affirming a student and showing that you care has more impact than you may realize. Sometimes help is more about “being with” rather than “doing for.”

Be Filled Up Yourself to Prepare for Pouring Out: Last, but certainly not least, is the approach you take to your own self-care. Sometimes we talk about self-care like we talk about dieting. People will do really well in spurts but it is the day-in-day-out execution of this healthy behavior that will yield the best results. Taking a vacation once a year, indulging in a long bath once a week, taking a day off twice a semester — that is not optimal self-care. The only way we are able to consistently care for students is if we are consistently caring for ourselves. Your self-care practices should be close to daily to yield the best results. That is what will best set you up to care for others.

Further explanation, tips, and exploration of these concepts will be discussed in the live session: “Caring for Yourself While Caring for Students: Advice & Strategies from a Mental Health Counselor” on March 4th, 10:00am, MOM 2021 live session (link here).

February 15, 2021. By Anne Rulo, Author, Speaker, Therapist. FB/IG/Twitter @annemrulo

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