Helping can be very hard on the helper. I have been helping others since I was twenty-eight years old and make no mistake, it takes its toll. I read on a Facebook page, some weeks ago, a negative comment about mental health professionals. The comment described how screwed-up we mentals are and how we ride around town in our Beemers and say “Uh-huh” all day long. I was inspired by this comment. So, here goes.
I don’t drive a Beemer. I drive an old car that I bought used and will keep until it is too broken to drive. I don’t think I’ve said “uh-huh” much in the thirty years I have been practicing and quite honestly, I see it as my responsibility to give feedback back to people in a direct and supportive style. Let me share what really goes on in the life of a “pedestal professional”.
There are days I go into my office shortly after sunrise and do not emerge until well after sunset. I am present mind, body and soul for each client that walks in and out of my office. I feel with them; I suffer with them; I cry with them; I absorb their trauma and pain, and diligently maintain my composure and professionalism so that I can take it a step further and also offer a direction for client closure and healing.
I hear awful things in my job. Awful stories that contain the most heinous kind of pain and trauma…and I hear them over and over and over again. While I hear these stories, I must contain my own normally-horrified reactions and stay empathic with my client. Over time this causes me to suffer vicarious trauma or what my coauthor Vicki Carpel Miller and I call Second-Hand Shock. Forget the Beemer; a Bentley may not be worth this type of occupational hazard!
On top of that I create this weekly blog, take calls after hours, talk to people who need me immediately, contribute to numerous “helping” Facebook pages, serve on the Board of Collaborative Divorce Professionals of Arizona. I write books and articles, get continuously educated, teach, train and publicly speak all over the country.
When I come through the door after a long day at the office, I am often emotionally inverted. During these times, I feel as though my feelings have been sucked into a vacuum and I can hardly connect with my own family who needs my attention as well. Occasionally, I feel numb. Other times I think that if one more person asks one more thing of me I will scream.
After a day of truly being present for others, I frequently find myself in a negatively altered emotional and physiological state. Sometimes I suffer sleeplessness, periods of anxiety, periods of depression and physical ailments that are a direct result of the over-production of cortisol; a dangerous byproduct of the chemical cascade inherent in absorbing trauma on a repetitive basis. I am not ashamed to admit this, I want people to understand that the dedication it takes to truly help others heal, is at often the sacrifice of the healer.
I hear you now muttering under your breath, “Well, this is the career path you chose and if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.” A true calling to help others is not so simply a choice; it is actually a rather complicated decision. It is my honor and privilege to be “port in the storm” for the people who request my help. However, I must draw the line when what I do is referred to in a negatively stereotyped and prejudicial manner. It is like adding insult to injury.
So here is my request: please don’t put me up on a pedestal and then shame me for putting me up there. I am a flawed little human and while I can reverently offer you the healing you seek and deserve, I break and bleed just like you. Thank you very much for reading about the mad ramblings. May you enjoy appreciation for what you do and who you are.