One of my biggest fears starting as a therapist was the concern that I didn’t have it in me to do this work long term. There was so much talk in grad school about self-care and burnout and noticing the warning signs, but I didn’t feel like those conversations soothed my fears. They only added fuel to the fire.
Once I started practicing, it seemed those fears were being confirmed. The anxiety about seeing clients day to day didn’t dissipate. It felt like that terror just before jumping into icy water each time I’d go out to bring my client back to the office. I tried to psych myself up, ok you can do this Ben. You’ve been trained. You have the natural ability. You got this.
Still fear though.
Then COVID happened. My little personal fear became magnified by a global fear. The stakes were higher for everyone coming in to see me now. And I felt myself pulling away, shrinking back.
How could I help all these suffering people?
Why are they turning to me?
I’m barely getting by myself.
I can’t tell you how many times I daydreamed about being a janitor again like I had in college. Solitary work. Work not involving the desperation and expectation of hurting people.
I could feel the pressure mounting, compounding. I cancelled my clients frequently. I often laid in bed with a pillow over my head as if to shield my mind from all that was happening. I felt like a failure and a fraud. A let down.
I was emotionally and mentally hemorrhaging. Day after day of what seemed like losing parts of myself. I just tried to keep giving and giving and giving. But I wasn’t recovering much if any of it.
It’s sad to say, but I think this is the experience of many therapists. Especially beginning ones. Maybe this is your experience?
I invite you to take a moment and sit with that.
Have you been losing pieces of yourself with this work? Have you been giving without recovery after? How much left do you have to give?
We need space and time, slowed space and time, to assess the damage. It’s hard, though, isn’t it? To stop and feel the damage that has been done. To realize how neglected your core needs have been. To allow yourself to feel the hopelessness, trauma, desperation, fear, isolation, grim reality that this job exposes you to.
But we need to do this. We need to face the damage if we’re ever going to recover.
And we need to recover.
If there is any hope of us continuing long into this field (which there is!) we need to learn and practice how to recover.
Some call this resiliency. Some call it self-care. Some call it survival.
Whatever you call it, it must be an essential practice, and not a luxury.
I get a sense that this has been pretty heavy so far, so I want to end with the real hope that I feel. And that hope is that this work, although always difficult, can become more identified by the meaning we find in it rather than the toll it takes.
We were all drawn to this work for a reason.
And I believe that if we can learn to take care of ourselves in the same way that we care for all those around us, we will be liberated to love and enjoy and explore this work for a very, very long time.
That’s my hope for myself and for you.
So, for the coming weeks, that is what we’ll be focusing on here.
How does that sound? Does this resonate with you at all? I’d love to hear, so feel free to hit reply to this email and let me know.