Becoming a professional counselor carries along with it some pretty significant risks. The basic truth of the matter is, you have to CARE about your clients (or, as one professor says, the dear souls who come before you) in order to provide care for them.
There is a thing called Compassion Fatigue and, unchecked, it will lead to poor decisions, burn out, unethical life choices, and in some cases intentional self-harm. It is such an omnipresent event in the lives of counselors that my grad program has several classes that assign us things like “self-care” calendars. I take my self-care a LOT more seriously not than I used to. I am trying to learn how to feed myself GOOD things and be good to my body. I am trying to say no to some things so that I can be a true representation of Jesus in the things I say yes to.
All of this to say, I’m not going in to this blindly. I’m aware of the risks, and practicing the steps necessary to fight it. But this week, I battled some pretty significant symptoms of compassion fatigue. I had to ask myself, “Can I really do this? Can I really provide care for dear souls experiencing so much pain?”
Because I tell you, I don’t just read, hear, or see this pain. I feel it. If the person in front of me is experiencing abandonment and fear, I too, in some measure (and more than most anyone I’ve ever met) experience it too. One of my professors explained it this way “Your empathy is matched with intuition, and that’s powerful. That will destroy you, unless you learn how to be aware without being taken away.”
Last night, I heard from a dear soul (not a client, LORD that would be unethical for the me to describe) one of the most awful stories I’ve ever heard in my life. A man I knew back in high school, who I do not keep up with other than an occasional, perhaps annual, check of facebook page, but who’s love and care for me so many years ago made a deep impression. The past few months I’ve felt the greatest burden (greatest as in a lot, and as in very amazing, beautiful gift) to pray for this man. I didn’t know why, but I let him know I was praying for him. When, last night, he let me know what has been going on in his life, I cried. It was one of the clearest and closest tales of evil my young life has brought me close to. And after a week of reading about existential angst and death anxiety, honestly, I was bogged. I knew/know that he is DEEPLY loved and protected by the Father, but leaving all histrionics aside, his story reminds me of Job‘s.
Of course, I had nightmares last night(a far less frequent event now than before). Though I am jazzed about every part of my world, (oh how, vain, to ever consider an arbitrary deliniation like that. “my world”) I was deeply affected by the terrors of the world around me. I was not stricken, but the fact that he (the above mentioned) was stricken, so greatly, caused some crazy in my sleeping mind.
I woke this morning still shaken. Not upset (like mad) but questioning, “Can I do this for my living? Can I spend my days second-hand experiencing the pain of others?”
I should insert here that I very much right now am trying to develop the strength and maturity to understand the feelings of others without being carried away by them. I find my empathy/intuition a gift. But it’s a gift I need to nurture and develop to use it best for the supremacy of the name and purpose of Christ.
So AAAAAANYWAY, this morning, I got to spend sometime with another friend. Someone going through some other issues that I just felt the prompting to contact, “Hey, let’s have breakfast,”I texted. No explanation, not a request, more a statement. She graciously accepted, even though she didn’t know what was up and neither of us were hungry. I got to spend an hour with her sharing visions and prayers and helping her reframe some issues with the gospel AND I TELL YOU WHAT, PEOPLEFRIENDS, hearing about God’s work in her life was a light back to mine.
It was a reminder of the GIFT of getting to know what’s going on in the world, even the evil, because I GET TO BE PART OF FIGHTING THAT EVIL. And you know what?
When I rest in the Holy Spirit, I can’t fail in that.
The chance to intercede
The chance to counsel
The chance to care
The chance to Love.
The are the blessing I experience as a helping professional, as a friend, as a sister in Christ, as a roommate, as a former schoolmate, as a child of God.