By: Leslie Fischman
CH 5: Pri v. Pub & Obstacles to Committment
Managing the Private vs. Public
A victim advocate and professional, named Carol, said that one of the hardest things she had to learn to do is “managing the private and public; how family life affects work life.” She explains the importance of being present, and learning to “sit with it.” She says that by finding her balance she is better suited to emotionally to help her clients balance their emotions. Carol has found that what has helped her most to prevent getting burnt-out has been to diversify the things she does. She has diversified her career by simultaneously managing a private practice, teaching college level seminars at the university, doing administrative work, studying psychological theory, and she really stressed the importance of self-care to parallel the process. When I asked Carol what she felt was the most challenging aspect of her role she first stated that,
“well there are three people here in the office and this question could be answered differently for all of us, but for me it’s: getting my mind set so that her paradigm is shifted so that she can appreciate the value of advocacy work and how its different than other clinician work she has done in the past.”
She explains how she has “incorporated lots of ways of doing self-care” to minimize the chances of her experience burnt-out and feelings of being overwhelmed.
Debra a licensed professional in the field, When asked – Have you ever felt burnt- out from work and how do you re-focus of get centered when feeling overwhelmed and stressed? – Debra replied, “Yes” and stressed “the importance of self care.” Some of the methods of self-care Debra practices are things like stretching after work or exercising outdoors. She describes coping with stress on the job as “burn out stuck in our bodies and finding the means to get it out of her body . . .exercising every morning . . . being intentional and making time for it.” Debra pointed out that . . .
“this may not be true for everyone . . . people get triggered differently. When it’s overwhelming busy and I feel like I can’t give everybody the care they need. . .which is not the time to get anxiety . . . so instead I get re-centered by remembering to pace myself in the time between cases . . . to take a breath . . . and when I don’t have time to do this in between spaces in my work schedule is when its the most important time for me to practice self-care . . .during these times is when its most necessary for me to take care of myself . . . so that I don’t subject myself to the potential of getting burnt-out and or . . . harming myself. Which is why when I get overwhelmed its important for me to get out and do something.”
Obstacles to Commitment:
Personal Motivations & Reinforcing Positive Self-Concepts
One factor that can be predictive of the length of service of volunteers on a crisis hotline is their individual motivations they had prior to entering service work. When an individuals motivations for volunteering are constructed by an expectation for personal gain and or guided by assumptions about what they think it will be like, they may have already set themselves up for failure. When their actual experiences differ from their preconceived notions of what therapy work will be like, minor triggers and the beginning stages of acquiring their role may pose significant challenges to their self concept which may lead them to drop out and/or easily become burnt-out.
By raising awareness about VT, counselor’s and therapist will be less apprehensive about sharing those negative feelings about what they do with other group members. In order to prevent counselors from “los[ing] touch with their emotions . . . [when] they do not allow feelings which would conflict with others into awareness and will try to say what they anticipate would be most pleasing” (O’Leary 1997:140). Which explains why it would be most difficult for those struggling to perform their role to admit any feelings that would suggest any personal weaknesses they may have, and suggest that maybe this is not the right role for them in life. Which can be really hard for those people who want to help others to admit to themselves that they are not as good at helping others as they think they are, and that really the one they should be helping is themselves.
Surprisingly the majority of the hotline counselors who I interviewed described feeling nervous before their first shifts. Not only did they feel uncertain and questioned their ability, but they were told that “it was normal for them to feel this way” and that through experience they would get better at it and eventually feel more comfortable. Although many of the counselors felt more competent after a few shifts, they recalled very vivid memories of their first calls and how it affected them emotionally. One counselor, Sophie expresses . . .
“to hear it and be the only person they can talk to is kind of scary . . . you’re a stranger but you are trying to help them . . . thought it wouldn’t affect me as much as is does and has . . . we can’t fix them [and it’s] hard knowing we never can. After a call [you ask yourself] did I say or do the right thing . . .is this person better now? It’s hard to know afterward if you helped them.”
Individuals who constantly question themselves, the value of the work they do, and are dependent on the need to have their feelings normalized by others and other positive reinforcements are most likely to question their own self-concepts when their feelings are not validated by their counterparts. In some respects, the goal of therapy for the client and the goal of being a therapist is to do something and engage with others in a way that reinforces a positive self-concept. However when our experiences and interactions with others yield negative feels about oneself, those feelings can cause one to question the purpose of their role and effect their level of commitment to something that doesn’t represent the most positive version of themselves they hoped they’d live up to within their role. When they allow other’s reactions to affect their view of themselves and their ability to help others in the way they expected they would. Part of a therapists personal growth comes from accepting the fact that they can never expect change to come
from someone else, but that they themselves can learn to accept the fact that they are powerless over another’s feelings, regardless of their level of training or educational background, the counselor learns to accept the many aspects of being a hotline counselor that they have no control over.
Challenges and Transformations
Shainberg (1983) illustrates the key transformation that therapist’s undergo when working with clients in this way. She claims that when counselors learn to let go of their thoughts, and stop trying to fix, they become better listeners. By making a conscious effort to be aware of one’s thoughts and judgements, counselor’s and therapist can better prepare themselves to be active listeners in identifying the caller’s feelings and not what feelings within themselves the caller is triggering (Shainberg 1983:175) Part of the role of the hotline counselor is to help others make sense of their experiences, by allowing them to explore their own feelings in a way which will lead them to a better understanding of themselves. In this way counselors can best help others by letting the client make sense of their experiences themselves without telling them how or what they should feel.
Trungpa (1983) argues that the basic role of the therapist “is to become full human beings and to inspire full human-beingness in other people” (in Awakening the Heart). Similarly counselors are best able to help others when they fully understand the importance of being open and come to understand the meaningfulness of the work they do for survivors of sexual assault. When counselor’s and therapist are unsuccessful at being true to themselves than “when working with others is a question of being genuine and projecting that genuiness to others” (Trungpa 1983). Trungpa argues that the role of the therapist is “not try to figure out people based on their past” but rather for them to develop a sense of “fearlessness” in the face of the unknown which is “necessary to work patiently with others” (Trungpa 1983). Normalizing the feelings of others requires the therapist in part to create and open space, let go of their fears of failure and the embarrassment they may feel by saying the wrong thing. Trungpa (1983) explains that in order “to cultivate basic healthiness in others” requires the helper “to cute [their] own impatience and learn” to be more accepting of others, regardless whether or not we may understand them. Trunpga (1983) alludes to the idea that whether or not therapist’s can personally identify with the experiences of client should not be a measure of how capable the therapist feels in helping that individual, being there and listening is just as effective. Trugpa (1983) specifically speaks to psychotherapist and their role as the helper to commit to their patients fully, in the sense that they pay attention and actively listen to their lives more so than any “ordinary medical work” position would require them to. She describes the relationship between the therapist and the client as more of a “long term commitment” that strengthens over time, with patience and the development of a certain trust that enables the client to freely express themselves and share their feelings.
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Leslie A. Fischman