An Activity to Help Counselors Set Realistic Expectations – Pt. 3: The Circle of Concern

This article was originally published by MontCo.Today

By: MaryJo Burchard, PhD

As a counselor, one of your greatest challenges is navigating the growing and sometimes conflicting expectations of administrators, students, and parents. This is the third installment of a 3-part series designed to help you to categorize and prioritize what receives your attention and energy based on the amount of control you have over the outcomes.  In Part 1, we discussed the inner circle – the Circle of Power – things you can directly make choices and act on. ONLY things you truly control are placed here. Part 2 covered the Circle of Influence – areas where others’ decisions and actions are directly impacted by what you provide or withhold, even though you are not the one making the choices. In Part 3, we talk about the Circle of Concern.

Circle 3: The Circle of Concern

You are surrounded by things that concern you, that may even potentially harm you, your students, or your school – but you have absolutely no ability to control these things. Large scale examples include things like a global pandemic an economic crisis, or a hurricane, but they can also include new laws or policies, staff restructures, or the thoughts and choices of others.

From budgets to policies to students’ circumstances, you encounter many things that you have no power to influence and can make your work more challenging. Unfortunately, not everything you care about is something you’re able to control­ – but the urge to respond as if you can is sometimes very strong. If you encounter something that has you feeling powerless to change it, ask yourself: “Can I genuinely do anything about this?” If the honest answer is no, give yourself permission to let go of any attempt to “fix” it. Then recognize what you’re able to provide to those in your Circle of Influence and focus the bulk of your time and attention on the things you can have direct impact on within your Circle of Power.

Any energy you expend trying to change things over which you have no control is lost, and would have been better invested working on something you’d have direct control of, or influence on.  Additionally, the accumulation of time and energy spent on things that you have no control over can increase feelings of anxiety, anger, frustration, and burnout – making you less effective in your work. Investing your energy, attention, and talents on the things you actually can control will help you set and reinforce boundaries, and have greater impact on the lives of the people you serve.

The TLC Team provides personalized support by adjusting their approach to the needs, goals, and strengths of each human being they serve, so every client and student feels safe and able to grow, learn, and heal. As a counselor, this adjustment begins by properly setting reasonable expectations and boundaries, and adapting responses based on your level of ability to control the outcomes. The most effective way for you to be impactful in your work is to identify and own all the things truly in your Circle of Power, mindfully invest in your Circle of Influence, and relinquish any time you spend on the things in your Circle of Concern.

About TLC

The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth (TLC) is a social enterprise company serving the Greater Philadelphia Area. Founded in 1970 by a behavioral health hospital, TLC is an entrepreneurial nonprofit providing innovative education, coaching, and counseling services to individuals and families, as well as grant writing and management services for school districts and universities. TLC’s mission is to promote positive choices and cultivate meaningful connections through education, counseling, coaching, and consulting. To learn more, visit

About the Author

MaryJo Burchard (Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership) is co-founder and principal of Concord Solutions, a Virginia-based consultancy firm focused on helping leaders and organizations thrive while facing major disruption. Concord Solutions offers consulting, coaching, training, research, and keynote speaking surrounding trauma-informed leadership and assessing and building change readiness, trust, and belonging.

Circle of Influence Concept

In his popular book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey introduced The Circle of Influence and The Circle of Concern concepts. The above exercise is a derivative of his work. 

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