Coping Strategies for Helpers – A Holistic Approach

By Marty Apadoca, Karen Lucero, Liz Daniels, and Tiffany Martinez-Durant

COVID-19 has directly impacted the lives and routines of people throughout the world. Isolation and forced physical distancing are having a broad effect on physical and mental health, including increased concerns over the removal of normal coping mechanisms, suppressing a person’s immune system, altering sleep patterns, and increasing the psychological reaction to stress (Cacioppo, Hawkley, Norman, & Bernston, 2011). Yet isolation is not solely an issue clients are facing. Helpers and providers continue to hold space for others while adjusting to many of the same feelings and issues clients are facing. In the wake of COVID-19, therapists and helpers are experiencing increased levels of countertransference (Community Care of North Carolina, 2020; Gaby, 2020). It is crucial for helpers to take care of themselves in order to properly care for clients.

Key Issues When Helpers Work Remotely

Although important for healthy workplace and personal functioning of everyone, self-care is also a significant element in the life of helpers. Self-care is impacted by two key issues: the organization in which an individual practices and the workplace systems and processes that effect delivery of care. Now that many helpers’ workplaces have shifted to working remotely, finding a healthy balance of personal and professional functioning may be a challenge.

Model for Professional Fulfillment

Chart 1: Model for Professional Fulfillment

©2016 Board of Trustees of the Leland Standford Junior University.


Culture of Wellness

The Model for Professional Fulfillment (see Chart 1) was developed by the Stanford Medicine WellMD Center (2016) in a wellness training for new medical school students and has relevant implications for helpers and practitioners. In addition to self-care, this model serves as a holistic guide to assist helpers in balancing their current practice. The WellMD Center defines a Culture of Wellness as “organizational values and actions that promote personal and professional growth, self-care and compassion for ourselves, our colleagues and our patients” (2016, para. 1). While many helpers who currently work fall under the umbrella of their organization, the organization's ability to actively provide a culture of wellness has been compromised. Working remotely, away from the direct support of the organization, and without access to resource can place additional strain on helpers. Independent practitioners may also find their culture of wellness compromised during this time. Here are some methods helpers may employ to improve their culture of wellness:


Efficiency of Practice

Working remotely has shifted the way many helpers practice. A common concern from helpers working remotely is they feel that work never ends because they are always at their home office. When meeting face-to-face with clients, it is easier to cue into client non-verbals and the subtleties of language. Helpers at home are now using a different style of practicing in which some clients, and helpers as well, do not have access to an internet service that can support clear video chat. This may create garbled conversations that lacks fluidity. With phone sessions, clients’ appearances and body language are removed from the eyes of the practitioner. The way we help has drastically shifted, but there are procedures we can implement into our daily routine to improve efficiency in our practice:


Personal Resilience

Self-care and personal resilience are the cornerstones that helpers build upon to promote “physical, emotional, and professional well-being” (WellMD, 2016, para. 5). While helpers continually encourage clients to practice self-care, this is at times an overlooked area for helpers. With many outlets for self-care removed, practitioners must be adaptable in caring for themselves. Helpers may need to:


Your Health Matters

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and naturally clients are encouraged to seek the help they need. Helpers should also take time for mental health awareness this month, now more than ever. It can be easy to lose sight of what can make a work environment efficient and holistic when attending to the needs of others. Evaluating current modes of operation and asking for support when needed can assist helpers in finding reinvigorated fulfillment and purpose in their jobs.



Cacioppo, J. T., Hawkley, L. C., Norman, G. J., & Berntson, G. G. (2011). Social isolation. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1231(1), 17.

Cirillo, F. (2006). The pomodoro technique (the pomodoro). Agile Processes in Software Engineering, 54(2), 35.

Community Care of North Carolina. (2020). Resources during COVID-19 for providers and practice staff. Retrieved from https://www.communitycarenc.org/newsroom/coronavirus-covid-19-information/resources-for-providers-and-practice-staff

Gaby, N. (2020). Rethinking countertransference in the age of COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/coronavirus/rethinking-countertransference-age-covid-19

Meadors, P., Lamson, A., & Sira, N. (2010). Development of an educational module on provider self-care. Journal for Nurses in Professional Development, 26(4), 152-158.

Stanford Medicine WellMD Center. (2016). WellMD professional fulfillment model. Retrieved from http://wellmd.stanford.edu/content/dam/sm/wellmd/documents/2017-WellMD-Domain-Definitions-FINAL.pdf



Model for Professional FulfillmentMarty Apodaca, MA, LPCC, CCC, NCC is a Senior Counselor at the University of New Mexico (UNM) Student Health and Counseling SHAC. He transitioned to SHAC after 12 years with UNM Office of Career Services.   He is past president of the New Mexico Career Development Association, an active member of the National Career Development Association (NCDA), and an alumni of the NCDA Leadership Academy Class of 2017. Marty enjoys sharing his knowledge of mental health and career counseling through presenting both nationally and locally. Marty’s passion is to help clients share, connect with, and ultimately develop authorship over their stories. Marty can be reached at rapodaca@unm.edu


Model for Professional FulfillmentKaren Lucero, MA, LPCC, ICGC-1, LSAA, is a Clinical Mental Health Counselor for the University of New Mexico Student Health and Counseling Center. Karen’s interests include Acceptance Commitment Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, LGBTQIA Community Support, and Tribal Community Support Services. Karen enjoys providing culturally competent treatment by focusing on values-based autonomy and assisting in clients’ unique growth. Karen can be reached at klucero26@unm.edu


Model for Professional FulfillmentLiz Daniels, MA, LPCC, NCC, is Licensed Professional Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LPCC) in the state of New Mexico with a clinical background in individual and group counseling and a focus on life-transitions, depression, anxiety, career counseling, adolescent issues, grief, and substance use. She believes in engendering clients to develop helpful coping strategies for thriving throughout ones life and career. Elizabeth is currently the President of the New Mexico Counseling Association and is a Past-President of the New Mexico Career Development Association. Liz can be reached at liz.danie111@gmail.com


Model for Professional FulfillmentTiffany Martinez-Durant, is the Health Promotion manager at the University of New Mexico Student Health and Counseling where she creates prevention and wellness programs for students. Her main goal is to ensure that students have the access and means to maintain a healthy lifestyle while in college. Tiffany can be reached at tmmarti@unm.edu


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Autumn Collins   on Thursday 05/07/2020 at 12:09 PM

Love this article! Thank you for writing and sharing these important and helpful tips!

Angel Luis Roman   on Saturday 05/30/2020 at 04:03 PM

This paradigm offers a succinct and timely prescription for helpers that can bolster and improve our responses to stress and vicarious trauma. Thank you for your collaboration on this topic...well done!

Jim Peacock   on Wednesday 11/25/2020 at 02:58 PM

I am reading this in November when Carolyn Jones shared it on LinkedIn and is even more important today than when you wrote it in the spring.
Helpers need to find ways to take care of themselves...so that they can help others.
Great tips and advice - I have set a timer since I began working from home 8 years ago and find that is very helpful in my mindset.
Thank you.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.