What It’s Like To Be A Mental Health Counselor, Update Part II

Seven years ago I wrote about what it was like to be a counselor. In this series of posts, I ask myself those questions again and compare the answers.

Taking the Job Home With You

7 years ago:
Some of us aren’t cut out to be therapists. If we are overly empathetic, and take our clients’ feelings with us when we leave the office we are in trouble. We simply can’t afford to carry around all of that pain and negativity. The people who do this will burn out in a few years and will no longer be effective counselors. We have to learn to keep clients’ problems at the office. This means establishing boundaries; ie. not allowing clients to continually run over their time, not doing phone sessions on demand, not allowing clients to expect on-demand phone therapy, and my personal favorite, not working on our day off. Yes, therapists need days off, too.

I mostly agree with this, but I do see things in a less definitive way. Meaning- there will be times when we take our client’s problems home with us, and that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be counselors. We just can’t do that on a regular basis without it affecting us negatively. Also- I now think there is much more to preventing emotional contamination than the suggestions I listed. This will be a topic for a future post.

Getting Emotional In Session

7 years ago:
There are times that I get emotional in session. It doesn’t happen too often, but when it does I just explain (briefly! Therapy is never about the counselor!) to the client what is going on, shrug, and reach for a tissue. Nobody has ever gotten upset with me because I tear up as they are telling me a tragic story. But I don’t take this home with me. It stays in the office. When it starts to come home, I know something is wrong and I need to readjust my boundaries, limit my client load, and/or seek peer support.

I still tear up at times but I feel much more comfortable doing so. I generally don’t feel as much pressure to explain myself, although in certain moments with certain situations I will make a comment about it. And, I do sometimes take the emotions home with me although I am able to process them out fairly quickly (most of the time).

Home Life

7 years ago:
Because my conversations with people are so intense at my job, when I come home I rarely feel like talking. To anyone. I don’t want to talk on the phone and I certainly do not want to talk in person. Your family has to understand this. We’re talked out and we need some time to regroup.

This hasn’t changed at all, although I do notice it’s worse after certain clients. There’s a difference between normal mental fatigue and the extreme fatigue I feel sometimes. What I have learned to do better is pay more attention to it, figure out what’s causing it, and see what I can do to help prevent it.

In the next post, I will wrap up this discussion.

Yours in the Joy of Knowledge,

Dr. Barb LoFrisco