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Psychiatrists out there, do you carry any baggage from your clients? if so how do you cope with it?

Hi! I'm Thomas, I'm interested in psychiatry and human psychology, and I would like to know more about how people in the psychology professions think about their work. #psychology #psychiatry #clinical-psychology #career

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Susan Delphine’s Answer

I've been a psychiatrist 42 years now. In the beginning the things you hear from patients upset you. In the beginning you are not sure who in the family is lying to you. Supervisors help sort things out. Peer consultations help. I don't think that there is a "how" you learn to distance yourself from tragedy and drama, somehow you just keep coming back to the work and it happens. I suspect your unconscious mind does this for you, and there are no buttons and levers to work, you just learn, unconsciously.

At about year 22 into it, I began to work two days a week with homeless, mentally ill persons in downtown Dallas. That was a new-to-me level of suffering and drama. The learning process began again, but, again, I just kept doing the work and one day I could fully empathize with someone who'd lost two grandchildren that month in two different drive by shootings while I was with her, and then let it go and move on to the next one.

Again, I am pretty sure that it is an unconscious mechanism, supported by peer or supervisory support for really disturbing situations. But even then, you process the situation and then get back to the work. That's how you learn to "leave it at the office."

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Jenna’s Answer

Hi! I am currently a graduate student in school psychology; however, this profession requires a lot of fieldwork, so I have already had a lot of experiences working with students in the schools. Even thought I am still new to this profession, the baggage that students bring with them to school can be extremely difficult to deal with. There is a reason why psychology (along with other professions) experience so much burnout and secondary trauma. The students at my elementary school are predominantly low-income and experience a plethora of issues just at home that they bring to school. Some of my students have more direct issues such as abuse, but I am also working with a younger student who is behind developmentally and it is likely due to some form of neglect at home. These experiences are really upsetting because as practitioners we recognize the importance of early intervention and know that there are cutoff points where students cannot get back to grade-level.
The way I work through this is by talking about it to my peers and supervisor. I also may talk about it to a close friend. After talking about it, I feel myself start to let it go and it does not bother me as much. As counterintuitive as it sounds given this profession, it is often necessary to detach your professional life from your personal life to stay mentally healthy.

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Dan’s Answer

You will have to develop a barrier between yourself and your job. This is easier said than done as those that are in medical school tend to be extremely focused on the task at hand -- giving your all essentially over and over and over again. This common mindset can earn you the grades and knowledge to progress and exceed but it will eventually take a toll on your emotional health. You will have to force yourself to essentially be human and do something outside of work and academics, at times you'll have to force yourself to hang out with your friends or force yourself to put the textbook down and go for a walk.

Good question.

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Rachel’s Answer

I know some very good psychiatrists, and of course there is a heavy emotional burden that comes with their job. Many of them meet with a counselor on a regular basis to unload some of the more stressful or traumatizing issues that they are dealing with in their practice. I think that this allows them to be more empathetic and avoid burnout.