That’s nearly 27 months’ worth of time. 27 months spent in classrooms, advisor offices, internship sites, interviews, and observation labs. And this was just graduate school.
394,200 minutes and I can count on 1 hand how many of those were dedicated to truly teaching what it really takes to be an effective and happy therapist. Yep, I said it. HAPPY Therapist.
Yes, I am writing from the place of being a therapist. But to all of my social worker, nurse, doctor, dietitian, case manager, and counselor friends… Read on! This is equally for you as it is for me!
Where was I? Okay, so don’t get me wrong, I am grateful as all heck to have received an education, but I wish just one of my textbooks warned me that taking a bathroom break at work is a luxury and that there is an actual art form to eating in between client sessions. And once I entered the field, I soon came to discover that I wasn’t the only one who was deprived of such a textbook.
I was working fast pace, high stress jobs as an entry level counselor and was surrounded by folks who would brag about how little sleep they got the night prior and compare how much coffee they had to consume in order to fend off hunger throughout the day. In hindsight, this is mortifying, but at the time, I WAS PUMPED. This was perfect. I hated sleep and adored coffee; this was my arena and I was fully prepared to put on an Olympic level performance.
I think at some level I functioned this way for the first 4 years of my career. I mean, shout out to my obnoxiously logical therapist for calling out some for the more extreme behaviors early on, but I have always thrived in and gravitated towards high stress situations. Plus, I was doing work that I loved and couldn’t get enough of it, so I didn’t really see the problem.
In all my years of schooling I was never taught how to be meet my own needs before I could meet the needs of my clients. In the years of experience leading me to the Primary Therapist role I now hold, it was incredibly rare for someone to tell me to SLOW THE “F” DOWN!
I had to learn all these lessons the hard way. And so, though this will not be a textbook of answers to every pickle you’ll find yourself in, here are some of the ways I make sure to prioritize my own well being. And quite frankly, these lessons have been more beneficial to my professional growth and happiness than any lecture on theoretical orientation and ethics ever has.
You are not a superhero.
I mean, your clients might look at you as one, but the truth is, you’re just as mortal as they are. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll feel like a hypocrite. YOU’LL NEED TO PEE! All of which are okay. Just because you now have some fancy letters attached to your name, doesn’t mean you become any less vulnerable than the rest of the world. So be gentle with yourself. Make mistakes. And for the love of all that’s good and holy, make time to pee and eat!
Leave work at work.
Much easier said than done is all I have to say. Don’t do progress notes in bed (albeit tempting) and turn off your work email notifications on your phone. And if you are comfortable with sharing your personal cell number with clients in case of emergencies, don’t feel like you always need to answer or “save” them. Talk to your clients and openly establish the boundaries that YOU are comfortable with when it comes to texting/calling outside of session.
You don’t need to know it all.
Hell, I can promise that you will not know it all! You are never alone in a session, therefore you never need to feel like you, alone, need to come up with a solution for the problem at hand. Honesty is key. It’s okay to admit to your client that you don’t have all the answers. In fact, working with your clients to problem solve together will not only help build rapport, but will ultimately set them up for success once they leave your office.
Do not work harder than your client.
This has by far been the most difficult lesson for me to learn. We, as helpers, naturally see the potential in people, even if they cannot. We want the best for them and when they are not willing to put in the work towards helping themselves, it is super tempting to try and overcompensate for them. Trust me, not only is this a guaranteed energy drain, but truly a disservice to that client.
Stop falling into guilt traps.
This really goes back to my first point- you are not super human. Mistakes are inevitable, so please start practicing self forgiveness like yesterday! Also, just because you’re now at a certain point in your career, doesn’t mean the other parts of you suddenly fade away. You can still be a kick ass therapist and a rock star mom. You can be the best of nurses and the best of friends. Whatever roles you play, give yourself some grace. Sometimes you’ll notice your energy being monopolized by just one of those roles, rather than living in balance amongst those roles. THIS IS NORMAL. It does not make you a bad partner, parent, friend, student, daughter, son, or helper. It makes you (you guessed it!) HUMAN! So just be nice to yourself and reach out for help when you notice that balance being thrown off.