Most counselors, psychologists, and therapists have bookshelves filled with ways to help their clients: volumes on dealing with certain disorders, using certain therapeutic techniques, or improving cultural competence. For the helping professionals among us, continuing our education in these areas is necessary if we want to ensure effectiveness.
Yet rarely do we find a book that is meant to help the helper. Robert J. Wicks’ The Inner Life of the Counselor is designed to do just that.
Being a practitioner can certainly lead to many life-affirming rewards. There is an almost intrinsic sense of joy that comes with helping others overcome the troubles life may throw at them. However, being a practitioner can also lead to burnout. It is not easy listening to stories of trauma or dealing with clients who may have outbursts of anger or sadness on a daily basis. Dr. Wicks’ book is a vital resource we can use to continually reinvigorate ourselves and provide the best possible care for our clients.
As the title suggests, The Inner Life of the Counselor is meant to provide tools that can lead to growth through introspection. Dr. Wicks states in his introduction that he hopes to help practitioners take note of their lives “more gently and clearly” and “fully embrace through practice those elements that can enhance maintaining a healthier perspective.” He bases his advice on a combination of his own personal experience (he has over 30 years in the field) and studies in areas such as mindfulness and positive psychology, as well as classical spiritual and philosophical ideas. In essence, his book is meant to help counselors keep a sense of peace and purpose among the relentless whirlwind of patient crises, insurance reimbursement headaches, and supervisory meetings that at times threaten to overwhelm.
In each of the book’s six chapters, Dr. Wicks explores a different area of mindfulness and how counselors can incorporate it into their lives. His aim is not to solve our problems, but rather to guide us to a deeper understanding of our lives and our work. Each chapter concludes with a series of questions to prompt reflection. Dr. Wicks gives plenty of food for thought, using quotes and excerpts ranging from Henry Thoreau to Chinese proverbs.
Of course, when it comes to a book such as this, the reader must wonder: Are the ideas presented actually useful in everyday life? It’s one thing to make a book full of “inspirational” quotes, but something else entirely to use such quotes as a framework for ideas that help us cultivate a better life. Luckily, The Inner Life of the Counselor definitely falls into the latter category. For instance, in the first chapter, “Creating Space Within,” Dr. Wicks discusses the importance of incorporating silence and solitude in counselors’ lives so that they may develop a greater sense of “humble gratitude” and become more in tune with their inner selves. He suggests that spaces of “alonetime” need to take place throughout the day — before work, between clients, as well as after the day’s business is done — and he gives advice on how to accomplish this amidst the chaotic schedules that the helping professions often necessitate. In Chapter 5, the author even provides a thorough “Self-Care Questionnaire for Clinicians” that helps the reader see which areas in their life they may benefit from working on.
As a mental health professional myself, I found The Inner Life of the Counselor to be a great resource for inspiration and personal growth. Though the book lasts barely 200 pages, it contains such a wealth of ideas that the reader will be busy for a long time thinking about it and utilizing its suggestions. New practitioners should read the book so that they may prevent future burnout, and more seasoned professionals may find that it simply revives them.
Being a practitioner comes with certain unavoidable stresses regardless of one’s job title or place of employment. Yet those of us who serve others owe it not just to ourselves but also to our clients to make sure that we pay special attention to nurturing our own well-being. Otherwise, we will not be successful in our care — and a vicious cycle may ensue. All helping professionals would do themselves a service by picking up Wicks’ book so that they may continue to provide care in a way that is both meaningful to them and those they help.
The Inner Life of the Counselor
Wiley, August, 2012
Hardcover, 203 pages