Helping the Helper
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege and honour of welcoming a number of health and mental health professionals to my counselling practice. I’ve met with clinical counsellors, social workers, physicians, psychologists, interns, nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, massage therapists, midwives, doulas and naturopaths. I’ve seen a number of healing and alternative practitioners too.
I’ve long been interested in the potential challenges that health practitioners face in coming for counselling and psychotherapy. In fact, I recently wrote about my experience being counselled.
It’s rewarding to work with such an insightful, sensitive and reflective group of people. But when you help people for a living, it can be difficult to ask for help.
While we all come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, there are themes that I’ve noticed which commonly arise when health professionals seek counselling. Many of these issues aren’t distinct, but mix and meld with one another.
Loss of Control – Many of us are accustomed to being “in charge” when it comes to helping clients and patients. Generally, we are used to assessing health-related situations and providing an appropriate response or intervention. Many of us have specific ways of doing this, particular to our profession and accumulated wisdom. We may even feel quite comfortable in this. When we find ourselves in the client’s chair, we may feel uneasy, apprehensive or even discombobulated.
Stigma – There is an idea floating around that we should be able to solve our own problems: we’re professional helpers after all! When we combine this idea with societal beliefs that asking for counselling or therapy is somehow a sign of “weakness,” our own sense of embarrassment or self-reproach can multiply.
Devaluation of Self Care – Caring for ourselves may be the last thing on our list, below the care we give to our family members, friends and clients. There may not seem to be enough time in the day or doing something active to promote wellness may seem like too much energy. Or maybe we’re so caught up in helping others that we forget about ourselves.
Putting Things Into Practice – You might even have written the book on it. It’s more painful to know what you “should” be doing, bringing new meaning to the adage “ignorance is bliss.” Sometimes we may even feel like a fraud, advising clients to make healthy choices that we can’t make for ourselves.
Confidentiality / Anonymity – You choose a counsellor that you do not know professionally but then wonder whether you could run into them again. Or you wonder whether a colleague may know your counsellor. If you’re a counsellor or social worker especially, the world may feel just a little too small.
Collaboration – It’s the cornerstone of my therapy practice. I trust what clients tell me about their reasons for coming for counselling and see it as my role to work with you to find a way through your difficulties. And your experience as a helper is always factored in. Shared wisdom can be a powerful thing.
Acknowledge the Process – I don’t pretend everything’s easy peasy, if it’s not. It can feel pretty awkward for health professionals to be attending counselling, sometimes even more so for counsellors. I like to bring this up and we either continue with this conversation–or not–depending on whether you think it’s relevant.
Needing Counselling is Normal and Healthy – I really feel strongly about this. I’m a big believer in intermittent therapy, or ‘counselling when you need it.’ If your initial reasons for coming for counselling have been addressed and you feel you’re doing well, I believe you! And, if you need to come back in the future, for the same or different issue, I welcome you!
Offer Empathy – I’ve been through counselling before and remember the vulnerability that can come with “being a client”. I’m sensitive to this and if there’s anything that I can do to make you feel more comfortable, please let me know.
Confidentiality – I understand that there is always the possiblity, especially with mental health professionals, that we may run into one another professionally. I never approach current or former clients in public settings and if you choose to acknowledge me, I keep the conversation brief and non-specific. And I’ll never ask how you are doing (even though inside I’m hoping you’re doing well).
Practicality – I offer a practical approach if you are having trouble moving past theoretical concepts and making meaningful change. I believe that those who achieve most in therapy are working at what we talk about inside the session, outside of the session. I offer follow-through for those who want this and encouragement for those who want to work at this more independently. Give me a call or drop me a line if you would like to get started!
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