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How Can We 'Tend and Befriend' Each Other?

11/01/11

I recently attended a five-day workshop on Mind–Body Medicine that emphasized the importance and methods of counselor self-care. As you well know, we spend our days listening to and caring for others, but do we have a system in place that nurtures and takes care of us? Do we have connections within our community that support our life’s work?

 
A Wonderful, Lonely Profession

I admit it … although I love my work, I find our profession lonely. We spend all day listening and absorbing the pain our clients share with us, but we cannot discuss our cases or our concerns with anyone else. We can’t let off steam to our partner or neighbor, although there are days we would probably like to do just that. 

In our small-group practice, we set aside one hour every week to discuss staff cases. This is helpful, but personally I find that it isn’t quite enough. I leave feeling a bit more connected, but still empty. 

Sometimes I feel like a sham. Every day I counsel my clients about the importance of living a healthy and fulfilling life, one that includes close interpersonal relationships, especially in a society where technology can make us feel both more connected and more alone, yet I neglect these needs in myself. I long to create a community in which I am surrounded and supported by friends who understand what I do, who care for and respect me, and who want to share the challenges of my life’s work.

In his 2011 book, “Empathy Fatigue: Healing the Mind, Body, and Spirit of Professional Counselors,” Mark Stebnicki, PhD, LPC, CRC, CCM, discusses counselor impairment and empathy fatigue as serious problems. He points out that counselor training should involve more than techniques and ethics; if we are to be helpful helpers, we must acknowledge that we have a responsibility to maintain our mind, body, and spiritual wellness—or face burnout. 

I decided to discuss my feelings of loneliness and isolation with my Rabbi, who also spends much of her day ministering to the needs of others. Our congregation has more than a dozen therapists, and she and I decided to hold an initial meeting to determine if others would also benefit from tapping the values and resources within our community to support our life’s work. 

I hope to create an inner circle of caring individuals whom I can trust completely and who are willing to share both the joys and hardships of our personal and professional lives with each other. 

The first meeting is scheduled for this Sunday; I’ll keep you posted on the results!


By Joan Normandy–Dolberg, LPC
Springfield, Va.


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