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Helping the Helpers Through Mindful Self-Care

Mindfulness as a humanizing process in self-care for helping professionals.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about significant changes in our daily lives, impacting how we work, learn, and engage with others. As a result, self-care has become a vital subject of conversation among professionals, particularly those who are grappling with challenges such as exhaustion, burnout, and even indirect trauma. The importance of self-care has elevated it from being solely an individual obligation to being recognized as a professional imperative.

What Is Self-Care?

Self-care encompasses a range of activities and practices to enhance overall well-being and prevent burnout (Christopher et al., 2016). Moreover, this concept can be broadened to encompass a more expansive notion of self-care, one that embraces an individual's humanity, fosters awareness of internalized negative cultural messages, and nurtures a positive cultural identity rooted in one's heritage, community strengths, traditions, and legacy (Duncan-Andrade & Morrell, 2008). Some scholars see self-care as the initial step towards personal empowerment (hooks, 1994), fostering a process of humanization in education that is both reciprocal and anti-oppressive, ultimately supporting collective well-being (Paris & Winn, 2013).

Furthermore, many scholars emphasize the importance of dismantling oppressive ideologies and power structures as a key objective within the transformative self-care process. This involves critical self-reflection, acknowledgment of dehumanization, and the reclamation of agency (Berila, 2016; Freire, 1970/2000; hooks, 1994; Litam & Hipolito-Delgado, 2021).

Mindfulness as a Humanizing Process in Self-Care

Research indicates that mindfulness can yield a multitude of advantages, encompassing reduced anxiety and depression levels, heightened life satisfaction, amplified social connections, increased optimism, enhanced tolerance, empathy, and self-confidence (Bohecker & Horn, 2016; Bohecker et al., 2016; Brown & Ryan, 2003). The application of mindfulness techniques has the potential to mitigate burnout, compassion fatigue, and other stress-related physical and psychological symptoms. Engaging in self-care and stress management education and training, such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, can be instrumental in achieving these benefits.

Furthermore, Shapiro and colleagues (2007) demonstrated that mindfulness training significantly decreased stress levels, negative emotional states, rumination, and anxiety while enhancing positive emotions and self-compassion. Beyond serving as a relaxation tool, mindfulness represents a transformative and proactive approach to self-care. It involves fostering a heightened awareness of internalized negative cultural messages and the cultivation of a positive cultural identity (Duncan-Andrade & Morrell, 2008). Practicing mindfulness can incite critical self-reflection, bring power and privilege issues to the forefront, and, through deep reflection and open dialogue, contribute to the processes of humanization and the dismantling of oppressive ideologies (Berila, 2016; del Carmen Salazar, 2013).

Considering the prevalent high levels of stress and burnout experienced by helping professionals, the prioritization of self-care practices is paramount for their personal and professional well-being. Mindfulness-based self-care has emerged as a promising strategy for addressing these challenges, offering a unique opportunity for individuals to contemplate their identities within broader societal and cultural contexts.

Research Findings

In the recent research (Choi & Hyun, 2023) involving participants who are school counselors in training, we identified five key themes that encapsulate their perceptions and experiences related to self-care rooted in mindfulness practice. These themes are:

  • Recognizing the Importance of Self-Care: Participants acknowledged the significance and necessity of self-care in their lives.
  • Cultivating a Nonjudgmental Mindset: They learned to approach challenging emotions with a nonjudgmental attitude, fostering self-compassion.
  • Integrating Self-Care: Self-care became an integral part of both their personal lives and professional roles.
  • Increased Compassion and Empowerment: Participants reported an enhancement in their compassion for themselves and others, coupled with a growing sense of empowerment.
  • Commitment to Ongoing Learning and Advocacy: They expressed a commitment to continuous self-improvement and a desire to advocate for self-care and mindfulness in their communities.

These themes underscore the profound impact of self-care, particularly mindfulness-based self-care, on those who participated in a summer self-care course. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to online education, this course helped them effectively manage daily stressors. They discovered deeper insights into self-care through group participation, fostering connections with their emotions, physical sensations, thoughts, and interpersonal relationships. Importantly, they learned to embrace difficult emotions, such as anger, disappointment, anxiety, uncertainty, and shame, with non-judgment and acceptance. The participants seamlessly integrated their understanding of self-care into their daily routines, both inside and outside the classroom, demonstrating a genuine embodiment of self-care principles.

These newfound skills and confidence in their self-care practices translated into a strong desire to assist others in their communities. Their professional identities were bolstered, empowering them to bring self-care strategies and mindfulness practices to underserved individuals and communities. After completing the course, these participants expressed their intent to continue their self-care and mindfulness journey, recognizing it as a lifelong endeavor.

Furthermore, this study underscores the critical importance of self-care for helping professionals. As participants voiced their sense of empowerment and eagerness to create and deliver workshops for their families and communities, they demonstrated that self-care is integral to social and cultural advocacy. This shift from a deficit-based to a strengths-based self-identity aligns with the role of helping professionals, who must critically assess dominant cultural influences and their impact on their own racial identity development, power dynamics, privilege, and oppression within educational settings (Mitchell & Binkley, 2021). Before effectively addressing systemic oppression and power imbalances, helping professionals must embrace themselves holistically and consider their own agency as a tool for advocating for those in need. When serving diverse individuals and communities, self-care extends beyond relaxation and self-awareness—it encompasses the reclamation of power in all aspects of one's being: physical, emotional, spiritual, and cultural.


This post is adopted and modified from Kyoung Mi Choi's research article published in 2023.

Choi, K., & Hyun, J. (2023). Perceptions and experiences of school counselor trainees on self-care grounded in mindfulness and social–emotional learning. The Professional Counselor (TPC), 13(2). 113-128. doi: 10.15241/kmc.13.2.113

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