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As someone interested in psychology, and possibly going into a career as a therapist or counselor, is it challenging to take on so many other people's issues? Does that affect the non-working part of your life mentally or emotionally?

Currently a junior in high school
Very interested in studying psychology at University

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Subject: Career question for you

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Dexter’s Answer

Hi Izabela,

I am not a psychologist, so please take this with a grain of salt.

From what I have learned through conversations with psychologists and by reading, I have learned that it is definitely challenging to take on other's issues. I believe it is an industry standard for psychologists to see their own psychologists to help them keep an even keel.

But don't take my word for it. I recommend "Maybe You Should Talk to Someone" by Lori Gottlieb, who talks about how it's like being a psychotherapist clinician and patient.

As for the second question you had, I think human beings are imperfect and no matter how much you try to separate out your private-life and working-life, one will always spill onto the other. When I dated a psychologist, she definitely had days that were tough due to her work (and nights where her sleep was affected by thoughts from work).

I hope this was helpful, and I wish you the best in your career journey!

--
Dexter
Thank you comment icon Thank you so much for your answer! I appreciate your insight into this. I just checked the book out from the library. :) Izabela
Thank you comment icon Awesome! Glad I could help! Dexter Arver
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Anthony’s Answer

It does, psychiatrists have a very high suicide rate. Good call. Something to think about.
Thank you comment icon Thank you! Izabela
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Nathaniel’s Answer

I have been an individual and group therapist for almost 30 years, the answer to your question of whether therapy bleeds over into the rest of your life is "Yes," "Sometimes," "It doesn't have to," "There are ways to take care of yourself, both to reduce 'leakage' and to treat it when it does happen." Also, not all 'cross-over' is necessarily detrimental especially if you are aware of it, have some control of its timing, and don't allow it to adversely cross back to the client. That is to say, some clients will feel frustrating and angry-making. If you can be aware of your feelings without acting them out, you can eventually--once the therapeutic relationship is well-established--help the client see what it is they do that frustrates the people in their lives and makes them angry.

What it's about is maintaining firm but flexible boundaries, and any training program worth its salt will help develop these if they are not already well-developed. Firm means you have to be able to separate your life from the client's: however tragic the client's situation, however much you care about and empathize with them, when they go home, they take their problems with them; the problems don't remain with you. Flexible means you need to be able to use good judgement in how close or distant you are with any given client and during any given point in the therapy.

Something that has helped me negotiate these issues is the theoretical concept of "therapeutic neutrality." Cheerleading, nursing, and judging are all valid professions of their own, but a therapist is not any of those things. Following the brilliant British child therapist D.W. Winnicott (see his "Holding and Interpretation"), I believe the job of a therapist is to "hold" a patient--in memory, in esteem, in caring--and to occasionally offer a timely and appropriate reflection, an "interpretation" in the lingo, as a parent lets a toddling child take a finger as it begins to walk on its own. Neutrality means that the therapist doesn't ally with any part of the client's personality, but maintains a safe space in which the client feels free to express every part of their personality. A therapist who can avoid 'trampling' on the client, can usually be counted on to avoid getting trampled as well.

There's a lot more one could say on these and allied topics; I'll just close with the advice to undergo your own therapy before and during training, and always to have good supervision when practicing therapy. As a new-minted therapist, you'll want a mentor-type supervisor who has 'read a few chapters ahead of you,' who has good therapeutic skills, and who can point out alternative tactics and strategies you haven't yet thought about. As you advance in 'time on the job,' you might want to get your supervision from a peer group that helps you problem solve about what to do with your own feelings as well as what to do with the client's. When you've been on the job a really long time and imagine you have thought of everything there is to be thought about, it may be time again for a mentor.

Thank you comment icon Thank you so much for the advice! This was really insightful to me. Izabela
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Kaylyn’s Answer

I recently started working in mental health as a case manager and therapist, and I think that this field can definitely be mentally draining and impact your personal life. It is hard to be empathetic all the time and compassion fatigue is very real. However, you can combat this by actively participating in self care. Many mental health care professionals struggle with wanting to be available 24/7 for their clients and work constantly. This is not sustainable or realistic. Boundary setting is just as important for mental health professionals as it is for their clients. I also find it helpful to remember that we are human too, and can only help as much as we are capable of. Hope this helps!
Thank you comment icon This does help! Thank you :) Izabela
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Michael’s Answer

Anytime a person reaches out to help someone, usually they don’t consider the impact on self that the act of kindness will have on them. An act of kindness should never negatively impact the giver of kindness, guidance, instruction or in this case the psychologist/counselor. The position of Psychologist or Counselor is only effective if the person in the position is first aware of themself. Knowing and understanding self is the first and most important step in being a true to self human being. Higher education allots you the tools to be able to intelligently assess a situation, in order to effectively provide any level of service to whoever you are providing that service to! A persons worldview coupled with higher education and a desire to help are the best ingredients needed to become effective, peaceful and successful in the helping field of psychology/counseling! Then seeing the end result of your clinical interaction with the client is icing on the cake. Best wishes to you in the most rewarding career one can ever have in my professional opinion.
Thank you comment icon Thank you for your opinion on this! I really appreciate how clear you were in your answer. This is really helpful to me. Izabela
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