If you don’t know this already, I am a social worker currently working in a mental health clinic. I have been in this field for about 3 years now. My graduate degree did not do justice to prepare for what this work would entail. Then again, I don’t think you can ever fully prepare.
The stories, hardships & traumas people go through always amaze me & as an empath, it’s natural for them to break my heart. I will also point out that the field doesn’t fully supervise therapists the way they should & need to. If we were supported the way we should be, there would be less burn out & better results. But that’s a discussion for another time…
Anyways, you learn ways to help cope with dealing with people’s stressors & finding some balance but, sometimes you can’t help but be human. That happened for me today.
My client suffers from really bad psoriasis that I never knew could be that debilitating. This is a man who has worked his entire life, was an artist & is now not able to do the things he once could & loved. He lost his marriage over it when he became disabled & couldn’t work anymore. He relies on the system & feels helpless. I can vouch that I have seen it for myself & it really disappoints me with how the system is broken & needs major fixing. But that’s a discussion for another time…
My point is, today was the first time for me that I truly felt scared that he might commit suicide after he left my office. We have a good rapport & I do feel confident in our therapeutic relationship, HOWEVER, this was something beyond & different today that scared me. There was fury, there was anger, there was HOPELESSNESS. All I could do was in my heart just listen, empathize & let him express himself.
There’s no relief for his disease & he doesn’t see the point in living. He was frustrated & went to get up & said, “No one can help me. This is pointless.” The only thing I could bring up in the panic was his granddaughter. I said she would be devastated without him (which was true). It’s a bit of a blur to me because this was a high tension moment & what I can basically remember was trying to stop him before he left saying, “You have been fighting this long for a reason. Something holds you back deep down & there’s still a FIGHT in you left. Let’s hold on to that.” I finally saw a tad bit of relief before he walked out. My one last final attempt while he was walking away I asked, “Are you going to be okay when you go home today? Be honest with me.” He smiled & said he would be ok.
Of course I completed the “protocols”, assessments & spoke with my supervisor. But still, even with all that there are NO GUARANTEES ever. I called him up to check on him later that day & he sounded better. The point is, after debriefing with a colleague of mine I realized, we can’t fully take away someone’s pain. That’s not our job & it’s impossible to do so. For anyone. I felt this enormous responsibility for him. & I don’t regret caring & doing whatever I can that IS within my control & WILL continue to do so, but at the end of the day, people will make their own decisions. & unfortunately, the possibility of a client committing suicide is very probable in this field. & I suppose I have to accept that, which was a harsh realization today.
When my colleague let me express myself & process what had happened I realized how helpful it was & how we shouldn’t underestimate the impact of just being there for someone. I was questioning my field & skills thinking, “Am I really helping someone? Can we really help people?”
Her being there for me, made me realize the power of empathy. Going through it WITH them. Letting them know they are not alone. There are no trainings that can fully prepare you for these things but, if you go with your heart, you can’t go wrong.