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"Alonetime": recovering a rich classical resource for counselor self-renewal.

Counselors cannot offer what they do not have. In a society marked by round-the-clock connectivity, it is difficult to set aside personal time to recharge and reflect. Yet the minds, voices, bodies, and spirits of counselors are our healing instruments. If even one component is weakened, a slow leak springs. Without an intentional practice of alonetime--a devoted period in silence and solitude or reflectively within oneself when in a group--the cost may be a life vocation unnecessarily lost, or even worse. We will examine priorities and common resistances; consider what alonetime may already be available but possibly underused; evaluate places that may promote a more reflective spirit; offer suggestions on how to restructure a busy schedule; and suggest alonetime and mindfulness meditation resources.


In this issue we introduce an invited article section to the Journal of Mental Health Counseling. The purpose is to provide a platform for recognized leaders in mental health counseling and related fields to share ideas that might not otherwise find a voice in the literature. The authors are simply asked, would you share ideas that you think are of importance and value to mental health counselors?

We are honored that our inaugural invited author is Dr. Robert Wicks, professor emeritus at Loyola University in Baltimore, MD. He is the author of over 50 books, including The Inner Life of the Counselor and The Resilient Clinician. His most recent book is Perspective: The Calm within the Storm. He is an internationally renowned speaker who focuses on resilience and support for helping professionals. In his writing and speaking his message is both helpful and hopeful. Dr. Wicks is joined in this article by counselor Tina Buck.

Securing "alonetime" for ourselves--periods of silence and solitude or being quietly reflective internally when in a group--seems very challenging today. Such devoted times seem to have diminished in a society wired for 24/7 connectivity. We want everything faster--our meals, entertainment, now even dating. Given the speeds to which we have accelerated, many of us are racing on empty or careening toward a crash. Many of us have convinced ourselves that we can go a little farther, do a little more, with no serious consequences. Nowhere is this attitude potentially more dangerous than in the field of mental health.

Scheduling time both to improve self-awareness and to renew self-care may seem unrealistic for counselors who juggle so many priorities and commitments. However, if we as clinicians cannot access and model taking time for self, we may be at risk of a devastating loss of perspective. Not only would we chance forfeiting the richness that comes in savoring our lives, but the gradual absence of mindful periods may slowly drain our ability to serve others. If our peace and healthy perspective are depleted, we have nothing to share with clients, family, and friends. During a lecture tour of Japan, this was shown in a captivating way to the first author by a gentle, insightful man:
      I had completed a series of lectures in Tokyo and was asked if I
   were interested in visiting one of the holiest Shinto shrines in
   the southern part of Japan, Ise Jingu. I was intrigued even more by
   the possibility of doing this when 1 heard I would receive a
   personal tour from a former woodsman who was now the director of
   the temple grounds. His comments were to be translated for me by
   someone who spoke both English and Japanese and had taught his

      When my interpreter and I arrived, he met us at the gate and we
   bowed to each other in traditional Japanese fashion. The tour
   involved a careful and sensitive explanation of the symbolism and
   rituals that marked the seasons and life of the tranquil temple
   grounds and those who visited them.

      In the course of the tour and narrative, he led us to the top of
   a slightly arched, simply but carefully carved, wooden bridge,
   where he stopped and urged me to look down at the water. When I
   did, he asked, "What do you see?" After a moment I responded,
   "Water that is clear, fresh, and at peace." To which he smiled and
   responded, "Hai" (Yes). Then, he looked at me directly with his
   dark brown eyes and an intent look on his face and asked this time,
   "Now, what  do you hear?" After another pause, I thought I could
   make out the sound of a small frog and told him so.

      "Ahso," he responded and then with a very serious expression
   added, "You will not hear this species of frog anywhere else on the
   temple grounds but here." And when I asked why, he quietly but with
   clear emphasis said, "Because this species of frog only lives near
   water that is clear, fresh, and calm."

      I knew enough of the animistic nature of Shintoism to realize
   that he was not really speaking about frogs and water but my style
   of living and the opportunities (or lack of them) that this very
   style would provide. Would I have periods of silence and possibly
   solitude to truly experience calm, clarity, and peace? Or would I
   just rush through my life and feel that doing so was "practical,"
   "natural," and "necessary"? After all, doesn't everyone live that
   way, especially clinicians with busy practices and involved home


Spending time in silence, possibly in solitude, can dramatically impact--for good or bad--the way life is lived. Certain fortunate people who have some natural sense of this concept say they are attracted to these "spaces" in life, whether for a few moments or on occasion a few days. However, if we can reconnect for a moment with our own childhood, we know that we and other children inherently have this need for silence within us from our very beginning.

Consider how small children play. They jump into the thick of things, or create it. Yet when they have had their fill of activity with others, they go off and play by themselves or take a nap. They regroup and feel once again a sense of inner ease. Yet as we become adults, there is a tendency to abandon those aspects of our natural rhythms that include leaning back, reflecting, reassessing, and renewing so that, for all involved, re-entering the fray becomes more possible, and more beneficial. The irony is that, given all the needs and activities we feel are necessary, this is often done for what are perceived to be solely practical reasons.

Russian physician and Orthodox Metropolitan Anthony Bloom (1970) echoes the challenge of this problem of not having or accessing alonetime in a slightly different way. He reaches into literature to illustrate the negative impact mindlessness can have on our lives:
   There is a passage in Dickens' Pickwick Papers which is a very good
   description of my life and probably also of yours. Pickwick goes to
   the club. He hires a cab and on the way he asks innumerable
   questions. Among the questions, he says, "Tell me, how is it
   possible that such a mean and miserable horse can drive such a big
   and heavy cab?" The cabbie replies, "It's not a question of the
   horse, Sir, it's a question of the wheels," and Pickwick responds,
   "What do you mean?" And the cabbie answers, "You see we have a
   magnificent pair of wheels which are so well oiled that it is
   enough for the horse to stir a little for the wheels to begin to
   turn and the poor horse must then run for its life." (p. 39)

Bloom (1970) then comments, "Take the way in which we live most of the time. We are not the horse that pulls, we are the horse that runs away from the cab in fear of its life." (p. 39) As clinicians, we know that unrecognized, distorted thoughts and beliefs can drive and defeat us. Still, our frenzied activities can start to seem normal. Multitasking becomes pervasive and pulls us into actually believing that we arc doing more than one thing at a time, when technically as our brain shifts between tasks, we become more and more inefficient as more activities are added, almost without our recognizing it. We start to feel as if we are doing more when we check email while talking on the phone or playing a game while watching television, but in reality we are creating static that makes us less attentive to life and eventually exhausts us.

When the insidious depletion of energy and the destruction of a healthy perspective start to take place, chronic secondary stress (what some refer to as "burnout") has come home to roost. Without realizing why, we become drained; we start to lose the original sense of meaning and mission that called us into the helping profession in the first place. Often imperceptibly, it also sets the stage for emphasizing the negative or stressful aspects of being a clinician while losing touch with the positive realities that the richness of counseling and clinical consultation offers to those with the eyes to see.

Fortunately, there are several warning signals that let us know when we are well on our way to a full-blown case of burnout if we do not reassess our way of living:

* Patience and Pacing--If we are moving so fast that we cannot catch our psychological or spiritual "breath," we may be losing the purpose for which we became counselors in the first place. We may also be losing the purpose with which we chose to be in certain relationships, had children, pursued volunteer activities, etc.

* Chains of the Past--As counselors, we are uniquely positioned to appreciate that dismissing our past or leaving major issues unaddressed will affect our present. Consequently, the more vulnerable we are, the more we may deny or avoid the past, or embrace past ways that are not helpful, such as self-blame. On the other hand, as we see in clinical work with others, if in a spirit of mindfulness we can slow down and look at them with a sense of intrigue, the results can be strikingly positive and freeing.

* Immature or Unproductive Thoughts and Behaviors--Counselors are constantly assessing our clients' stage of change and on the watch for relapse. Again, unless we make time to reflect, it can be hard to turn the same spotlight onto ourselves and examine what we are doing in a similar objective light.

* Lack of Gratitude--For many of us, due to certain "signature strengths" (ability to listen, empathize, or analyze, etc.) that seem to have been present in us from our early years, the rewarding profession of counseling seemed to have chosen us. As we struggle at times to build our careers and manage busy practices, we can sometimes forget to be thankful for these gifts and the honorable field to which they brought us. Without a daily practice of gratefulness that is part of a regular reflective regimen, our inner resources can become misaligned and our sense of direction lost.

* Inappropriate Use of Strengths--Checking to ensure that we are using our strengths as intended would seem to be a given. However, like anyone else, counselors who feel vulnerable can inadvertently demonstrate their ability to stroke their own egos. Alonetime can help us recognize this more readily so that we can address it.

* Failing to Appreciate Impermanence--Devaluing life by ignoring the fragility and impermanence of our human state is a common but serious danger. Banking on tomorrows that may never come is a temptation the mindful clinician must deal with personally and model for clients if both the caregiver's life and treatment of others are to be as rich as they can be.

As clinicians, our bodies, minds, and spirits are the instruments we bring to our practice. How we see ourselves as both individuals and counselors impacts how we engage our clients, express our thoughts and feelings, and share our essence. Thus, we must know what is valuable to us--and prioritize it. When a lack of self-reflection and self-care blurs the edges of our authentic selves, we know we are off course and need to make adjustments sooner rather than later.

Alonetime is a foundational element of self-care.

It allows us to plumb our internal depths in helpful ways that foster change. This quiet gives us space to explore at our leisure that which leads to fuller personal awareness and self-knowledge. In the process, we will move to a better position to embrace unlearning and relearning. In doing so, we can give ourselves permission to release ourselves and others from unhelpful inner obligations. We can also consider new ways of thinking, speaking, and acting--even if they upset the people around us.

In the process of doing this, we determine whether our pursuits (success, material goods, thrills, etc.) are today adding to, or detracting from, our lives. To do this, we embrace a simple but powerful reality: While we willingly walk such a path with our clients toward a deeper appreciation of self, inner meaning, and life, we must also take a similar journey ourselves--alone or with a trusted mentor.


Once we are aware of the potential dangers of not having sufficient time for reflection and renewal, determining for ourselves how to integrate time alone or in silence is a natural area of focus. For this the following five steps can be helpful:

1. Review priorities and honor resistances regarding alonetime.

2. Seek "crumbs" of alonetime that are already available in our current routine.

3. Expand physical places that would encourage a reflective spirit.

4. Incorporate several changes into our schedules.

5. Read further on enhancing periods of alonetime and mindfulness meditation.

Review Priorities and Resistances

The fact that free time has become such a valued commodity can be seen in a humorous reflection shared by a counselor:
   One of the first clients that came to see me shortly after I
   received my doctorate and opened my clinical practice was a
   physician with one of the busiest practices in the city. He was
   having an affair outside of his marriage and wanted to explore it
   with me. At the time 1 remember giving him this wonderfully
   detailed Freudian assessment of his actions. I think if he came in
   to see me now, my first reaction would be, "Where do you get the

The counselor then added, laughing, "I know. I know. I've aged a bit since then!"

The lesson in this is that we have enough time in our schedule for what we want if we truly value its possibilities and act on this priority. For instance, rising a bit earlier to spend at least a few moments in solitude, in silence, and wrapped in gratitude is then seen not as a nicety but as a necessity. After developing a practice of mindfulness (being in the present with your eyes wide open) with this as a cornerstone, you may then find that when you don't take this time, your day is less rich, reflective, and integrated. While you might question the practicality of taking time in the morning with all that lies on your plate for the rest of the day, you may also notice that those times you don't have a ritual of alonetime to start your day, you are not as professionally and personally fruitful.

Another help to become more aware, centered, and mindful is to consider the flow of your day. One simple way to do this is to ask quite basic questions:

* Regardless of what is going on, is there a sense of peace and calm within the storm or does each day feel like it takes on a life of its own?

* Does this then lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, and then to fear or anger about emergencies and derailments that must be faced?

* If so, does prioritizing alonetime in our schedule seem more unrealistic rather than a sensible (and at times urgent) thing to do? (To put it in clinical language: what is the main resistance to taking time alone when it has the potential to truly center and renew us?)

One of the main reasons people often resist creating a period of quiet in their lives is resistance to what we might encounter when we finally quiet ourselves. When we sit in silence and solitude, we are essentially creating a psychological vacuum, and as we know from high school science courses, nature abhors vacuums. As a result, the cognitions (ways of thinking, perceiving, and understanding) that lie just below the surface (what some from the psychodynamic school of thinking might refer to as "the preconscious") rise up to fill this open psychological space--and there we are facing our own lies, games, avoidances, angers, fears, doubts, and confusions. In response, we may handle such a resistance with an internal statement that we are too busy now but promise ourselves to set up such a regimen tomorrow.

We might also avoid taking quiet reflective time by telling ourselves it would be wrong for us to avoid responding to the requests of others.

Another common face of resistance to quieting ourselves to hear our own voices, desires, and questions is--in existential philosophical language--the openness in front of us and our freedom and personal responsibility to fill it. Narrative psychology challenges us to realize this with our clients; alonetime calls us to face it with ourselves.

Another resistance to alonetime is a failure to appreciate three cul de sacs that may tempt us when issues arise in being quiet: arrogance, ignorance, and discouragement. Arrogance implies a tendency to project the blame onto others in our lives. This is especially tempting when we are under great stress as clinicians. One colleague who was overwhelmed by both a heavy teaching and clinical load and a recent messy divorce told his mentor that he was going to go back into therapy so his issues didn't interfere with his work. Also, he wanted his quality of life to be better.

She told him that she applauded his decision but wanted to offer a gentle caution. She said that, like our clients, when under great stress and especially when we feel underappreciated and misunderstood, we may be tempted to look for a "perceptual ally" in the counselor. We want this person to agree with our perception of things and to stand with us against the world. However, as she and he well knew, counseling is most effective when we withdraw our projections and work on areas in life that are in our control. Initially blaming others might feel good, but if we do, we are giving away our power to change things. Because the mentor and her younger colleague were good friends and she presented this in as gentle and well-paced a way as she could, he heard her. The same can be said of all of us when we face issues that arise during mindfulness meditation or simple alonetime: We have to be kind to ourselves in our search for greater clarity. It is not only extreme borderline patients who experience narcissistic injury when the information given is too challenging. Even if we mean well, the tyranny of hope can have us outpace the client--in this case, ourselves--which only adds to the burden, no matter how lofty our intentions.

Ignorance is the second blind alley that may tempt us during alonetime. The tendency in this case is to blame ourselves inordinately for things that have gone awry in our practice or life, with the implication that avoidance would be far safer. This is a surprisingly common issue for counselors, we have found, even though they work cognitively with their own clients to help them avoid such errors in judgment.

The reality is that all counselors will have clients who may not have breakthroughs or who decide to avoid or postpone making life-saving changes in their lives while in treatment. Sometimes we will not be at the top of our game; nor can we presume, even when we are at our best, that all our good work will naturally lead to success. A healthy perspective allows the clinician to embrace the inevitable failures, especially given the difficult population with whom we deal. Likewise, we will recognize that the more active we are professionally and clinically, statistically the more likely we are to fail; failure is part and parcel of attempting creative interventions with clients and in group consultations. This does not mean we should take fewer risks or stop refining our skills. It does suggest that we need to recalibrate our measuring stick.

After two decades in corporate America, the second author transitioned into mental health counseling. At first, she used the same personal measures of "success" with clients that she did when she was in the corporate world: failure is not an option; persistence resolves everything; and the expectation is to always be one step ahead. In a banking culture, these strategies were valuable, but as counselors we must start where the clients are and pace appropriately. If the therapist is working harder than the client, it is vital to identify any counter-transferences. Thus one of the most freeing things to learn in clinical work is to recalibrate success in terms of faithfulness: be present, attend intentionally, and be grateful for the time and trust that allows two virtual strangers to journey together for a few minutes each week.

Recently, when the first author worked with surgical residents on resilience, he presented them with the reality that they were going to kill people. Not intentionally. Not necessarily because of malpractice, but because of mispractice. During the life of a surgeon, as with clinicians, you cannot possibly be on 100% of the time. We can seek to limit our errors and shortcomings but our own physical limits, unexpected personal or professional crises, sleep deprivation, or being called in when we thought we were off, can all lead to situations where the treatment provided is not optimal.

Also, in terms of being too hard on ourselves, a point in the spirit of positive psychology is that we can never look at our mistakes enough but we can look at them too exclusively. This means that as clinicians we must be willing to examine our lives in totality--to identify our talents as well as our faults and then acknowledge how these gifts can be used constructively as well as destructively. For example, many clinicians have the gift of compassion that allows them to help others at their greatest times of need; yet overflowing compassion may unintentionally communicate that our clients cannot do certain things for themselves, or may nurture overdependence on us.

In alonetime, the goal is also not to simply unearth the size of the difficulties we may be facing. If we did only that, it would lead to the third dead end: discouragement. The personal and professional goals we have for ourselves can never be high enough. However, if instead of inspiring us to keep at it--maybe in new, more innovative ways--those goals deflate and depress us, something is wrong with how we are thinking or judging ourselves. Instead, the goal in quiet time is to consider all surfacing thoughts with a sense of intrigue. This allows what we uncover to guide us instead of defaulting to the defenses of projection, self-blame, and discouragement. In this way, rather than seeking to give away the blame, condemning ourselves, or feeling dispirited because we may have made the same personal or professional error again, we become constantly interested in how all this came about. We have a deep interest in situations where our very talents become growing edges, unique opportunities to refine our skills. For example, our caring nature may be channeled into becoming too supportive, which may foster learned helplessness in clients or to challenging others to push them to action. If we train ourselves to become interested when these growing edges arise and recognize them as flags, we can pause and let go of the temptation to jump in and take over the client's process. This space allows us to be faithful in seeking to be reflective and accepting of where the client is at that moment.

With a sense of intrigue, ultimately we can also even seek to delve into our own "layers of silence." Psychologist and author Jack Kornfield (2000) notes:
   In entering solitude one does not necessarily find silence. At
   first solitude can be noisy, filled with the conflicts of the body
   and the mind's ongoing commentary that Chogyam Trungpa called
   "subconscious gossip." Meditation practices help us to find a way
   to genuine stillness. In them we find that there are many levels to
   silence. The first is simply external silence, and absence of
   noise. Then there is the silence of the body, a growing physical
   stillness. Gradually there comes a quieting of the mind. Then we
   discover the silence that gives birth to all things. To enter
   silence is a journey, a letting go into progressively more profound
   levels of stillness until we disappear into the vastness. (p. 83)

It is in the vastness that we can find what we may have been unconsciously seeking, reconnect to what was lost, or just be more of who we believe we were meant to be.

Meditation, a more formal type of alonetime or mindfulness, allows us to approach the silence, to glide along with it until we are ready to dive into the depths. In The Wooden Bowl, Clark Strand (1998) suggests that meditation "ought to be an area of your life where you can let go of the obsessive desire to improve yourself, to get ahead, or to do better than anyone else.... Meditation ought to decrease the drivenness [sic] of our lives, not make it worse" (p. 12). He recommends beginning in a comfortably erect posture, counting our breaths for four inhales and exhales, and then reminding ourselves to take life as it comes to us.

Once again, the importance of mindfulness to the self has parallel value in our clinical work. When we possess a spirit of mindfulness in our own lives we can more readily enhance the ability to take in our clients' emotions and experiences by allowing them to wash over us without judgment or expectations. In the words of psychologist Christopher Germer (2005), this is building "a skill that allows us to be less reactive to what is happening in the moment. [Mindfulness] is a way of relating to all experience--positive, negative and neutral--such that our overall level of suffering is reduced and our sense of well-being increases" (p. 4).


One of tire ways to get around resistance to becoming more aware and expanding healing, renewing, and challenging periods of alonetime in our schedule is to uncover what is already there. Since this takes less energy, it allows us to maximize the present situation without having to add anything new--something that always causes hesitation to make changes, especially when a great deal is going on both personally and professionally.

Current periods that can be transformed into more intentional--and thus potentially richer--times of solitude and silence might be:

* Time in the morning when you are awake but not yet out of bed yet, or in the evening as you prepare for sleep

* In the shower

* During meals if you are by yourself

* Walking a pet

* On the drive or walk to or from work

* When you first get to work or as you close the day

* During breaks between clients (this is especially important so that you don't remain contaminated by the negativity of the previous client, or run the risk of sharing it with the next)

* When you have cancellations or spaces in your schedule

* As you take walks during the day to increase your oxygen exchange, with the knowledge that depression and activity don't like to live together, or seek some mild exercise by possibly walking faster than you normally do

* Waiting in line or for an appointment

* Waiting for your children to finish practice or tutoring

* When it is raining, blustery, or snowing, when most people choose to stay out of it, taking a short walk or run in a familiar setting that is awash with new dimensions.

As you begin to access ideas like this, you will be able to find even more. It may even surprise you how much quiet time we all miss. We do not appreciate how even a brief redirection can renew and re-balance us. Interestingly, once we begin to tease renewal time from our hectic days and start to enjoy and benefit from it, the desire for more grows.


When topics like mindfulness, alonetime, meditation, silence, and solitude come up, people tend to think they need to be at a monastery, in an open field, or the sitting in lotus position on the side of a mountain. Though such settings may be conducive to awareness, for many they are not practical. Thus we must be creative about self-renewal and intent on enjoying the life we already have. Spaces where we can peacefully take a few breaths to appreciate our life now include:

* Small parks or gardens

* Unlocked churches or temples when no service is taking place

* Libraries or local bookstores

* Our own offices between sessions or when no session is scheduled

* Building lobbies

* Movie theaters before or after the show

* Coffee shops in off-hours

* Areas of universities and museums

* Hospital chapels or waiting rooms.

With some creativity, the list is practically endless. Similarly, it is also helpful to create specific physical meditative spaces that foster a sense of serenity and exploration. For example, consider the decor in your office. Are there photos or mementos that, when you glance at them, transport you easily into a relaxed, aware state? Is there a corner of your office where you can fit a plant, a small Zen garden, even an aquarium? Ties to nature often help the practitioner (and clients) to slow down, breathe deeply, and pause. Many of us spend hours in the car driving. Instead of a daily diet of news reports, entertainer fiascos, and talk radio, or speaking on a hands-free phone, can you one day choose instead to listen to soothing music or turn the radio off altogether and enjoy the silence?


As well as physical places to be quiet, another help is to make small changes to how you do business, such as

* Leaving home earlier for work so you have time for reflection space before beginning to see clients; this is also helpful because when we leave just on time or late for the office, we begin the day with stress rather than a sense of being centered

* When taking a break, leaving behind phones, iPads, or other mobile devices to allow the space to truly be what is needed

* When taking a walk, doing only that (i.e., do not "take a think") so yon can be more attentive to what is around you rather than being in a cognitive envelope

* Planning for free and leisure time with greater care so you don't just drift through it or simply get mesmerized by television, phone, or computer

* Catching yourself when you play "the postponement game"--"I will finally enjoy myself after I graduate, after I get licensed, after my practice is established or I get tenure, after the children are grown." A more helpful attitude is to recognize that your life begins now or it will never begin. Even small changes in the now are better than dramatic future plans that may never happen.

* Personally and clinically, behaving as if the person in front of you is the only one in the world; this will move you out of a cognitive preoccupation with the past or future and create more aliveness in you.

These suggestions are meant to spark ideas that allow you to ponder what small shifts you can make that would create more renewing and balanced forms of living and working. As the sense of peace opens up, it telegraphs itself to others and eases frenzied thinking and actions, sometimes quite unexpectedly. A clinician once said to a mindful colleague after just a few minutes of consultation, "Talking with you is like taking a Xanax." Another clinician was surprised to discover that the audience for his lecture on resilience and maintaining a healthy perspective contained a number of professionals; he was able to mindfully defuse his own anxiety about speaking to this unanticipated audience, and a director of human services later commented, "There was such peace in that room. They really felt it." The results for both us and those we serve are tangible if we take the time and approach the situation in the most helpful way possible.


As counselors we are trained to attend carefully to our clients and to intervene quickly and effectively. This sensitivity is central to building a mindfulness practice. We give ourselves permission to nurture our souls by staying focused in the present. We specifically allow information to flow over and through us--no hitchhikers on this journey. We welcome the open space and release any judgment, anxiety, emotions, or debilitating thoughts.

Williams, Teasdale, Segal, and Kabat-Zinn (2007) offered ways people can release themselves from chronic unhappiness by the way they face all of life. Their suggestions for how counselors can address parts of our lives that we don't like are particularly important: They ask us to examine our feelings during sessions and through the rest of the day and question "negative" emotions instead of avoiding, retreating, or attacking. They also ask us to explore the real facts about a situation and not dwell in the "shoulds." By retooling our perspective with more positivity, we begin to see people and experience events for what they really are. Though this is important for practitioners at all levels to remember, it is a special bonus for novices.

New practitioners bring fresh enthusiasm to their colleagues and to the amazing undertaking we refer to simply as "helping others." They are good for those of us who have been in the field for years, because their fire can help re-energize us and open our eyes to new ways of seeing tilings and relating to others; yet this energy can be depleted quickly if it is not regularly stoked. In the early years there may be a greater propensity to work longer hours, say "yes" to more work-related commitments, and sacrifice self-care. There may be times when career demands need to have priority over other things; however, long-term that practice will heighten vulnerability to secondary stress and burnout. Only with intentional periods of alonetime and mindfulness can new practitioners go the distance in our careers.

Reading to Enhance Alonetime

Finally, reading about alonetime, mindfulness, meditation, and reflection is an effective way to find inspiration and guidance on strengthening our own self-care protocol as well as a way of renewing our life and the way we view our professional practice. Most books on such topics provide excellent basic ways to start shaping mindful periods of personal awareness that will be both refreshing and instructive. Among psychologists and psychiatrists who specialize in this area are Jack Kornfield, Christopher Germer, David Brazier, Daniel Epstein, and Tara Brach. (In The Resilient Clinician [2007] and The Inner Life of the Counselor [2012] by Wicks can be found "A Self-Care Protocol Questionnaire" and "Alonetime as a University." These self-assessment guides to enriching time alone encourage careful structured exploration of thoughts and beliefs as well as challenging us to align our actions with our authentic selves.)


One of the greatest gifts we can share with those who come to us for counseling or supervision is a sense of our own peace, resilience, and healthy perspective. We cannot give what we do not have. Yet with a willingness to slow down and explore our innermost selves, we can enrich our lives and regain what we may have lost. We can better let go of what is nonessential or destructive, practice greater mindfulness, and improve our embrace of practices that help us to maintain a healthy perspective regardless of the darkness that may encroach on our professional and personal lives.

Counselors are given the privilege of stepping into strangers' lives and hearing their intimate, powerful, and poignant stories. Only if we are whole can we journey with them in a more complete way as they achieve greater integration. Being a counselor is truly like being in treatment for a lifetime, because the process and content of what makes life good for people is our daily fare. If we make alonetime for ourselves a priority, we will have the spirit and support we need to be our authentic selves. We can then appreciate more readily that our collective practices become a "wisdom profession" that can help to transform tragedies, failures, and setbacks into something that makes life deeper and better. Isn't that why we became counselors in the first place?


Bloom, A. (1970). Beginning to pray. Mahway, NJ: Paulist Press.

Kornfield, J. (2000). After the ecstasy, the laundry: How the heart grows wise on the spiritual path. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Strand, C. (1998). The wooden bowl: Simple meditations for everyday life. New York, NY: Hyperion. Wicks, R. (2012). The inner life of the counselor. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Wicks, R. (2007). The resilient clinician. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Williams, M., Teasdale, W., Segal, Z., & Kabat-Zinn, J. (2007). The mindful wav through depression. New York, NY: Guilford.

Robert J. Wicks is professor emeritus at Loyola University Maryland. Tina C. Buck is affiliated with Carroll County Youth Service Bureau. Westminster. Maryland. Correspondence about this article should be directed to Robert J. Wicks. Department of Pastoral Counsaeling, Loyola University Maryland. 4501 N. Charles St.. Baltimore, MD 21210. Email:
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Title Annotation:INVITED ARTICLE
Author:Wicks, Robert J.; Buck, Tina C.
Publication:Journal of Mental Health Counseling
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2014
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