Professionals working in the field of mental health are often asked how they separate, or manage, their own emotions from the people and situations they encounter regularly. Some questions I’ve been asked; “Don’t you get sad? How can you just listen to people talk about their problems every day? Do you think about work at home?” The answer isn’t so black and white. Hearing people vocalize and explore both their pain and progress certainly evokes sometimes heavy emotions in the listener or supporter. Supervision, collaborative treatment, and self-care are a few examples of healthy ways we actively work to process such emotions, receive support to maintain quality of care, and remain mindful of our own position in these meaningful therapeutic roles and relationships.
What does that look like for me? I’ll call a friend or colleague for support or feedback, go to the gym, or indulge in some comfort food. Recognizing the need to process these emotions as they come up is the important step, similar to our clients taking the initial step to seek support and engage in treatment.
I can’t speak for everyone in the field, but I feel confident in stating that many of us were brought to this field because of our ability and passion to empathize with people in order to provide support during challenging times. Also, there’s often an inherent mindset held by professionals in this field which helps us to view such “problems” as an opportunity for change. This is a way to positively reframe what could be identified by some as an emotionally taxing job, and instead recognize the rewarding opportunity to work with people who are initiating change by seeking support.
Ultimately, as humans we all experience emotions. It’s important that we acknowledge that it’s ok to feel sad, or to have an emotional response to our own, or others, personal struggles. It’s ok to say “today was really hard” and recognize our need as professionals to utilize our own healthy outlets to take care of ourselves. Certainly, easier said than done at times to “practice what we preach” but it’s an acquired and necessary practice to prioritize our needs as we simultaneously support others. Erik Erikson, a developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory on psychosocial development of human beings, said “the more you know yourself, the more patience you have for what you see in others.” As we care for ourselves and continue making our own personal and professional growth, we’re able to continue doing what we love and offer the compassion and support we came to this field to provide.