Reclaiming and Redefining Self Care Culture

As professional helpers in training, we are all very familiar with self-care and the culture surrounding it.  We often hear that we should engage in self-care as a means of avoiding burnout, protecting our health, and to avoid providing harmful or ineffective care to our clients.  Throughout various points of my educational career, self-care has, at times, felt like an impossible expectation. I have experienced environments where I was told to make time for myself when I had just been assigned another paper, given an extracurricular task to complete, or been expected to work tireless hours because, “that is just the way graduate school is.”  I often felt juxtapositioned between self-care and finishing my homework or my thesis.  Many say, “self-care can happen in small moments!  You can always make time to relax, even if it is only five minutes!”  While this is true, and this is what many of my peers and myself would do, those small moments of self-care often weren’t sufficient.  It was not solely due to our own failings or ability to manage our time, but largely due to graduate school environments in which you are constantly expected to perform many varied tasks at a high level.  Faculty and graduate students alike often find themselves in this rat race and, although we try to find time for ourselves, scheduling self-care is a challenge in and of itself.

Uncoincidentally, work culture in the United States (U.S.) mirrors a similar dynamic to graduate schools.  U.S. culture continues to encourage longer work days under the guise of self-improvement, despite the deleterious impacts on our well-being.  We are often told to continue working hard to achieve our goals, which makes it difficult to stop to recognize that the pace ebbs and flows rather than merely rests at a stead, manageable pace.  We often place a large emphasis on individuals to perform, without recognizing the constraints the environment poses for many of us.  Yet, we continue at this pace.  We even use our past successes or our past experiences of labor-intensive effort to justify this rapid pace to those that cope after us, encouraging them to persist in sometimes tireless endeavors.

Like many future clinicians, I can appreciate the ethical reasons for engaging in self-care.  It is important to mirror self-care to our clients and to maintain a balance in our lives so that we can be helpful to those we work with. With that being said, I have developed somewhat of a love-hate relationship with the meaning that is embedded into current self-care culture.  So often it seems like self-care is used to provide a cautionary tale related to burnout or a lesson in morality of the “shoulds” of ethical care.  In fact, self-care has appeared as a category on my practicum evaluation forms, placing us in positions where deficiencies in self-care could lead to punishment, despite us having little control over our workload.  However, I feel as if the main purpose of self-care often gets lost in the culture; we neglect to encourage ourselves and others to engage in care for the purpose of being kind to ourselves, not just so we can continue to work long hours.

As I am nearing the end of my graduate career I have found myself wondering several questions:  Why is it that, so often, self-care is only expected to come in isolated moments or to be separate from our working lives?  Why is it that individuals are held accountable for their own self-care, but our environments and society are not held responsible for creating an environment where we can care for ourselves and others?  Why is it that, to be a dedicated professional, conventional definitions of “work” must be placed at the center of our lives, while self-care falls into an extracurricular aspect of living?  Perhaps, most importantly, where can we find the compassion in self-care, rather than continue to demand it so that we can continue at our current, arguably unhealthy paces?  As I progress further in my career, and likely into roles with increasing amounts of power, I am challenging myself and those around me to reclaim the culture of self-care and to seek to redefine it.  Self-care does not only have to be 6 a.m. yoga, hiking, or watching a movie on a weekend prior to working on a manuscript.  Self-care can be integrated into our working lives by being kind in our constructive critiques of one another, by finding leniency in “hard” deadlines, by understanding when we all need time to unwind rather than taking on another project, and by using our power to create environments where others’ boundaries are encouraged and respected.

As we gain power in workplaces we can aim to hold ourselves and others accountable for keeping hours where we can disconnect without the risk of losing financial, social, or professional resources or gain.  I believe that taking care of oneself is extremely important because, after all, we matter.  Just like those we work with, we deserve love, care, and appreciation, and so often we already are doing enough just by being.  Although I hope to continue to finesse my own self-care practices, I also hope that as we move forward we began to recreate a culture in which we can place the value of compassion at the forefront of our lives, including our work, so that self-care does not only have to come in small moments in between working, but that work and self-care can be integrated to create a balanced life.

Brittany Sievers is a doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

To download the PDF version of this document, click here: Reclaiming and Redefining Self Care Culture

Journey of Finding Integrity in Oneself

I have been doubtful in my purposes in my journey of achieving a doctoral degree when I experienced so many adversities: the first time I was treated unequally because of my race and country of origin; the first time spending all days and nights in reading but can barely complete assignments; the first time worrying about graduation and money income as a 28-year-old woman without meeting the expectations of parents: getting married or having a stable job; and the first time struggling so deeply with my own belief but expelled from the fellowship group because I was considered so sinful. I have never met a life period that I come across such intense frustration, discrimination and sadness. I wanted to shout at those who picked on my race and nationality, but I also had to remind myself I don’t treat people in the way they treated me and become someone I hate so much. I wanted to isolate and escape from my work and from the environment filled with racism, sexism, xenophobia, and ignorant hatred; but there were so many uncontrollable things keep me moving forward and outside to get in touch with others.

During the days I internalized voices of doubt and shame, during the days I am confused with what I learned about therapy and intervention, something turned into my conscious awareness and knowledge that I would not pay attention to in the past. Until one day, my advisor looked at me and said, I am sorry that you are in such deep pain, but maybe it will make you a better therapist; until one day, my another advisor who is teaching our practicum said, isn’t pain the best gift of a relationship so that we know we had cared a person so much; until one day, I took a class on health disparity and inequity and truly understood some of the concepts and wished to do something about it. It is such an exciting and enlightening moment and I finally found my research interest in cultural and diversity issues, which took years, besides the fact that this area could be my lifetime career goal! I realized maybe there is a reason why I moved to deep south and experienced microaggressions; and until one day I looked back on my early years in the doctoral program and found the connection between my passion and endeavor on training and supervision and the negative experiences I had in supervision. I found myself being more understanding to marginalized populations as a minority, more insightful and thoughtful of American cultures as an international student, and more respectful and grateful to my own culture as a Chinese. I know I wouldn’t have gained these great qualities if I have not experienced these struggles at this life time. If I have not had deep struggles in my belief, I wouldn’t have known the truth in my Believer or how strong my faith could be. There are reasons leading me to this journey. I would not have met so many people that meant so much in my life, being my teachers, mentors, friends and colleagues. Sometimes it is easy to get lost when I was embedded in an emotional moment and hard to think beyond five days or a semester.

This is not an easy journey; we all want to give up at some point. But the experiences we have are meaningful in many ways, and we will finally get more power when we complete the degree. It is more than a degree; it is an acknowledgment of our efforts. And when we have more power, we will remember how to use it to empower more people, but not to abuse it. Maybe we will have the power to even change things we would like to change and have an influence on things we were negatively impacted. This is also a journey to find the integrity in ourselves: to know what we should do and avoid things we should not do. We don’t have to be influenced by the adversity, to be numb to others or to adapt to the power system or adverse environment, but to protect our honesty, kindness and wise heart; because there is a better place that deserves all these qualities and we don’t want to waste these gifted talents. I am also grateful that because of the struggles I had, I had met people who gave me support, who shared laughter, tears and dreams with me. In many ways we were deeply connected along the journey. I am not grateful for the people who hurt me or the ignorance running around them; but I am grateful for the transformation people and my Believer brought to me and the strengths I was given. Now at the 4th year in my doctoral career, I finally know that I will build confidence and competence one day. I have a sense of how to do great therapy. I discovered a true interest in research areas that is coming from life and reality. And there are many ways I can connect to others and help people who like me in the past.


This article has been contributed by Haidi Song, who is a 4th-year doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program at Auburn University. She is the regional coordinator of Region 5 in Division 17 SAS.

To download the PDF version of this document, click here: Journey of Finding Integrity in Oneself

An Exclusive Interview with the SAS Co-Chairs (2018-19)

Ashley Schoener and Sam Colbert are the SAS Co-Chairs for the 2018-2019 term! They are both second year doctoral students at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Read on for some excerpts of their interview!

Why did you want to be the SAS co-chair?

Sam: The main reason is that I believe in social justice. The Society of Counseling Psychology (SCP) and the Student Affiliates of Seventeen (SAS) Executive Board is very oriented towards social justice. Being able to advocate for social justice on a macro level is exciting and the opportunity to effect change is neat! We are both voting members on the SCP Executive Board. The fact that SCP gives students voting rights is a big indication of their social justice orientation! Also, given that we are the host institution, it is a real privilege while also being a large responsibility.

Ashley: It is amazing to have a network of individuals who are likeminded, passionate and have the same goals. Having access to such a large network of people who care about the same things is appealing. This network has given me the opportunity to get really involved in the field, which I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do, otherwise. I think it is wonderful to have the opportunity to have an impact and work towards those goals…it gives you the opportunity to engage in outreach and social justice that we value as professionals.

What is your vision for SAS 2019?

Ashley: My vision for SAS is to improve the connection within the vast network! I would like SAS to be more involved with our members and give our members more opportunities to get involved with SAS. We are trying to offer opportunities for members to be on different committees as to spread the power and privilege that comes along with being part of SAS and Division 17. We are trying to reach out to the community as much as possible even within our own pillars and committees. Lastly, we want to standardize a lot of processes and make them leader-proof so that the transition process becomes easier.

Sam: I really want to see us hand over SAS as a well lubricated machine to the next host institution. Doing this is pivotal! SCP is doing a strategic planning initiative and I am hoping to apply some of those strategies to our own Executive Board. Like Ashley said, the larger goal for me is to distribute the power within SCP and SAS. The way I see that is through resources—we are trying to be fiscally responsible to the organization and the students! Being a voice for students in psychology…that’s a big deal! Even though graduate students are privileged in certain aspects, they are also marginalized in others. We are finding out ways that we can advocate for graduate students and taking that to the SCP Board.

What has SAS accomplished in the last year?

Ashley: SAS has done a lot with connecting our members, it has been extremely active this past year! We created a workshop about SAS, we have program representatives who are hosting events, dinners for their members, and we are also equitably distributing resources. We are providing funding to each of the SAS regions, so members can reach out to us to apply for funding to host events. We did monthly webinars too, which are now available on our Facebook page! Also, at APA we had a SAS social which brought together people from all over the world. This gave people the opportunity to form relationships and strengthen their connections.

Sam: We give out over 2000 dollars in awards every year for students. During APA we have three hospitality suite hours for different programming that we do. We have expanded the SAS Executive Board as well, to inform people about SAS.  We want to be able to continue to engage in webinars, send out letters of support for societal issues, and continue our outreach to communities and members.

What are your goals for SAS 2018-2019?

Sam: A big goal for me is to try and distribute financial resources strategically. We want to use these resources for student awards, projects, and getting resources to students in Counseling Psychology programs.

Ashley: To put it simply, we want to equitably distribute resources: whether that’s financial or power. By distribution of power, we mean we want to provide members with more of a voice on the Executive Board for SAS, and consequently SCP. We want to be the voice of the students on the Executive Board. We are doing this by creating positions on the SAS Executive Board which reach out to graduate students and SAS members, like the Scholarship, Engagement, and Collaboration Pillar and Promotions Chair within SAS.

What are you most excited about, for the upcoming year?

Sam: We have been working on a lot of things lately, and I am excited to see some of those efforts come to fruition! Also, given that we have started multiple initiatives in the past year, I am excited to see the kind of impact they will have…I am also excited about working with our SAS Board because the members have a lot of energy and a lot of experiences, and I want to see what kind of ideas and projects they have and want to implement.

Ashley: I am excited for APA! I am excited to help and make it better from last year…I am also excited for the applications to come in for the next host institution. It will be cool to be a part of the transition of giving other people all this power…it’s kind of like we get to leave our mark on the whole institution of SAS and this is a chance when we get to choose what that is!

What would you like our readers to know?

Sam: We want feedback as well! We have an email address and social media, please write to us!

Ashley: Get involved! An organization starts and ends with its members. The more activity there is all over the country, the more we can do! And the more gets done for our communities and for our members.

What do you want to tell institutes who are applying for hosting SAS?

Sam: It is a fantastic opportunity to have. We have a unique position to advocate for thousands of students… This is very important because we can influence change!

Ashley: It is a different kind of work, but it is unique! And that is what is special about it! It is very meaningful once you get involved and I would highly recommend institutions to apply!


Does your university want to be the next host institution for SAS? Click here to find out more!

To download the PDF version of this document, click here: Exclusive Interview with SAS Co-chairs!

Benefits of hosting SAS!

Is your university thinking of applying for becoming a SAS host institution for 2019? Are you wondering about the benefits of hosting SAS? Our Executive Board members share their thoughts…. read on!


How has being a part of the SAS Executive Board benefitted you?


“Being on the SAS executive board has provided me with networking opportunities at conferences, as well as the ability to see the behind-the-scenes functioning of professional organizations. It has been a great experience to be involved in making changes to benefit graduate students within the counseling psychology field.” (Rebecca Hughes, Promotions Chair)


“It has allowed me to connect with other professionals in the field, specifically those who have the same research interests as myself, and helped me learned about potential career options that I did not initially think of.” (Rawan Atari, Programming Chair)


“As a board member, I’ve gained knowledge about a variety of professional development opportunities available within SAS, Division 17, and even the larger APA. Further, through my specific role I have built skill in group leadership, management, and creative problem solving. A final benefit I will note is having knowledge about what an organization looks like from the inside, which can be useful as I pursue leadership positions in the future.” (Samantha Hinnenkamp, Engagement and Collaboration Co-Chair )


“Being a member of the SAS exec board provided me with a plethora of opportunities to network with other students, faculty members, and professionals in the field. This is something I wouldn’t have been able to do if I didn’t join SAS!” (Leah Crabb, Membership Co-Chair)


What has been the best part of Ball State University hosting the SAS Executive Board?


“The best part about Ball State being the host institution for the SAS Executive Board, is that we have had a unique opportunity (I would say, even the privilege) of using our passion, knowledge, creativity, and collaboration for the good of not only our own community, but hopefully the impact is being felt throughout the nation as we endeavor to resource SAS chapters and members to be more informed, equipped, and empowered in the work they do.” (Sarah Meyer, Social Justice and Advocacy Co-Chair)


“I think having Ball State be the host institution has brought so many opportunities to me and to our program. We have all become more involved with APA, conferences, and other professional opportunities. It has created a culture at our university of professional involvement and encouraged us to network and build connections. Additionally, it has brought individuals within our program together. It’s often hard for us to all find time to spend together, but when we are all working on SAS together, we also get to do some community building!” (Betsy Varner, Scholarship, Engagement and Collaboration Co-Chair)


“I think it has helped me to feel more connected to Division 17 and APA as an organization. It has been exciting to plan programming for APA and to be able to represent the voice of students within Division 17.” (Corie Hess, Prevention and Promotion in Mental Health Pillar Co-Chair)


Why would you recommend being a SAS host institution?


“If you have ever wanted to see change made at an institutional level, being a host institution for SAS is a fantastic opportunity to that. The host institution gets to initiate new programs, coordinate events, and organize opportunities across different institutions. If you have ever thought, “I want things to be different,” this is the way to make it happen!” (Kristen Reser, Secretary)


“I recommend being a host institution for a couple of reasons. First, the networking is amazing. Second, you get to directly influence the experiences of student members of Division 17. The SAS board has two votes on the Division 17 board, and they vote based on SAS executive board meetings.” (Rebecca Hughes, Promotions Chair)


“I would recommend it because it’s an opportunity for professional development, getting to know your program members, and being part of something bigger than just your university.” (Paulina Wojtach, SAS Social Media Chair)


“Being a host institution allows students in your department to have leadership opportunities and get involved in APA in a way that benefits their development but also graduate students across the country!” (Steven Scally, Prevention and Promotion in Mental Health Pillar Co-Chair)


How is the SAS Executive Board able to make a difference for counseling psychology students across the nation?


“It creates opportunities and events tailored to the needs of students, while also constructing pathways connecting students with ECPs and later-career professionals. This creates an environment that fosters the development of connections between counseling psych students and creates a supportive environment for students, while also providing opportunities for future development within the division, as well as development as a professional in general.” (Kevin Cannon, Treasurer)


“The SAS board has helped to distribute financial assistance, professional resources, and professional development opportunities to members outside of the executive board. SAS provided programming funds, travel funds, and monetary awards that assist student in traveling to conferences and organizing events at their universities. Further, the executive board has developed informational presentations, organized webinars, and created other resources for students. Our SAS board has ensured that other leadership opportunities (e.g., regional coordinator, committee positions) went to those outside of the Ball State department to ensure that power and representation with SCP is distributed across departments.” (Ashley Schoener, SAS Co-Chair)


“The SAS board provides opportunities to share resources and opportunities with students from all over. These resources can present as monetary awards, webinars, useful professional information and connections. SAS is also active at the APA conference and other professional conferences throughout the year. It provides the opportunity to bring students and professionals together, as well as to share ideas within the professional community and to reach a broad audience.” (Lauren Wruble, Membership Co-Chair)


“I think SAS board allows Division 17 to hear the students’ voices and concerns related to the field of counseling psychology. I would also argue being on the SAS board allows the incoming generation of counseling psychologists to shape the future of counseling psychology.” (Scott Barrera, Multiculturalism Pillar Co-Chair)


Other thoughts…


“Hosting the SAS executive board, in my opinion, provides students with a sense of accountability to constantly think about the ways in which they would like to be involved as well as what they would like to see change in the professional field of psychology (and the training to enter this field). It not only ensures that you are bringing social justice issues to the forefront of your mind, it encourages that you get involved in a way that makes a difference related to the issues you are passionate about. Finally, it provides a platform for advocating your own interests and passions to like others who may want to be an agent of change, but are unsure how to do so.” (Chelsey Parker, Webmaster)


“We are in a unique position to advocate on behalf of graduate students needs to the SCP executive board as the co-chairs have voting rights on the board. If you are interested in systemic change, apply for this position!” (Sam Colbert, SAS Co-Chair)


You can download the PDF version of this article here: Benefits of hosting SAS!