Take Care of Yourself Before Taking Care of Others: Time Management Tips for College Counseling Directors

The day of a college counseling director is filled with so much more than one-on-one sessions. Many directors are also responsible for patient reporting, training sessions, clinical supervision, and implementing campus-wide mental health programs.

How do you manage your daily tasks, support your staff, maintain quality of care, and contribute to cross-campus mental wellness, all while avoiding exhaustion and stress? 

Liz Jodoin, PhD, LPC, LCMHCS, a former college counseling services director for the University of South Carolina Upstate, knows the many hardships faced by directors – and is offering five tips to mitigate fatigue and avoid burnout. 

1. Leverage your staff’s expertise.

Your clinical staff is your greatest asset. If you're feeling overwhelmed or overburdened, ask for assistance. Reach out to those around you. It doesn’t matter how comprehensive the task or complicated the situation. You don’t know everything there is to know, nor should you. Look to the experts around you. Delegate responsibilities when possible. I guarantee your staff will be happy to provide support, especially when it impacts the wellness of the team. A great way to do this is to brainstorm and assign summer projects to your team. You may have set up student-athlete screenings, for example, and can now allocate this task to one of your staff members. Let them take over the organization, execution and reporting of that project. In addition, have other staff members sit in on meetings that you don’t necessarily need to be in. This offers them professional development and saves you time.

2. Prioritize collaboration. 

As a leading voice in the center, it’s important to provide guidance, but it’s also important to listen and engage meaningfully with staff members. You may consider setting aside 30-minutes every week for an open discussion. If a clinician comes to you with a problem, ask them to consider possible solutions before taking this on yourself. Give your staff the opportunity to be their own advocates – and offer them a safe, supportive platform to speak up and take action. Scheduling weekly case consultation times and monthly birthday lunch celebrations can help with these connections. 

3. Take deliberate breaks.

Schedule short, twice daily 15-minute breaks. Utilize this time to decompress, refill your tank, and clear your mind from the day’s stressors. You may choose to spend this time walking outside in the fresh air, meditating, stretching, or reconnecting with a friend or relative. I really enjoyed having outdoor walking meetings when the weather was nice. Also, be sure to not just take lunch, but take your lunch away from the computer or office. We hear this advice all the time, but many of us fail to execute it. What you eat for lunch is also important, as healthy lunches can help stave off burnout.

4. Set boundaries and maintain them.

Time allocation is only beneficial if you follow it. Be transparent with staff and let them know when you’re available and when you’re not. Clinicians may come to you in between counseling sessions, on your way to a meeting, walking to the restroom (my personal pet peeve!), or when you’re stepping outside for air. Don’t be afraid to tell them, “Now is not a good time.” You can then remind them of your available “open door” times. If your colleagues continue to ignore boundaries, tell them to send their questions via email. This puts the onus back on them to initiate contact. Otherwise, you’ll have questions and concerns circling around your mind throughout the day, making it virtually impossible to take mental health breaks. 

5. Break down large tasks into smaller ones.

One of the best ways to avoid preventable stress is to break up larger tasks. If you have an annual report due every year on July 1st, map out a plan that stretches the work across multiple weeks or months. Make sure every participating member is aware of their task and the deadline associated. You can also ask everyone to complete their own monthly reports which include CEUs they have completed, presentations they have given, among other information. Create a reporting template for them that captures all of the info you will need. On the first of each month, combine all the data into a living, breathing report that you save in a specific folder. 

Being a college counseling center director is challenging work, and often lonely. You’re responsible for building cross-campus relationships, designing programs, reporting on student data, and supporting your team of clinicians who are, far too often, overburdened and overwhelmed. To be the best director you can be, you must take care of yourself before turning to the needs of the campus, the center, the providers, and of course, the students. 

Invest in Your Own Education – and Mental Health

As the campus’s leading voice in mental health care, it’s important to keep yourself educated on the industry and what’s changing. Whenever possible, attend industry conferences and events. Dr. Jodoin recommends the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators’s (NASPA)’s Strategies Conference. You can also check out Association for University and College Counseling Center Director (AUCCCD) resources and join their director support groups.

Sometimes you feel like you’re on an island, especially when your counseling center is separate from other critical services on campus, but you’re not alone. Make sure you leverage your network, reach out when you need support, and most importantly, take time for yourself to ensure that you’re ready to tackle the challenges that will inevitably come.

At Mantra Health, we are dedicated to supporting college counseling centers through expanded service offerings. We have a team of in-house providers who are highly trained and specialized and can work collaboratively with counseling center directors to provide therapy, psychiatry, and crisis support via telehealth. 

We encourage you to check out our services here or follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook to stay updated on events, roundtable discussions, and resources for college counseling centers.