Therapist is a very broad term, even in the mental health world. The biggest difference is between agency mental health work and private practice. Even with those differences, this is pretty much how your day goes…
6:00 am: Up and ready, bracing yourself for the day that cannot be expected, but you are trying to prepare nonetheless. Protein, check. Coffee, check. Professional looking outfit on a shoestring budget, check. Own mental health calm and stable? Bahhh….good enough.
8:00 am: At the office and gathering files to get ready for the day. As someone’s therapist, you are preparing for each session, trying to anticipate what needs may walk through the door. It’s likely been a week or two weeks since you have seen today’s clients and you have no concept what the last two weeks have been like for them. Regardless, they will need to walk out with something tangible, so you make copies of evidenced-based tools and techniques for everything and something.
8:30 am-5:00 pm: Depending on where you work as a therapist, you are seeing patients either on the half-hour, every 45 minutes, or on the hour. They tell you about rape, suicidal ideation, domestic violence, child abuse, anxiety, depression, abortion, voices others can’t hear, life-altering financial stress, grief and loss, rage, post-traumatic stress disorder, compulsive disorders, unplanned pregnancy, infertility, resource vulnerability and so on and so on.
They need you to listen, they need your support and they also need some direction on where to go from here. You need to wrap that up for them in 30, 45, or 60 minutes depending on your place of employment. You need to wrap that up for them in a way that can sustain them for a week or two. And you need to complete co-current documentation because there is no paid time later for documentation. And your documentation needs to be evidenced-based to satisfy the insurance companies and also needs to show progress towards treatment plan goal completion.
At some point you need more coffee. And a breath of fresh air. And lunch. And a bathroom break. And God forbid your husband, child’s school or child’s day care calls. Who has time to answer that call?
5:00 pm: You drive home to your family who hasn’t heard what you heard, so you know that you have to function as if you haven’t heard it either. This the “vicarious trauma” they tell you about in Grad school but you don’t understand fully until those silent drives home at 5:08 pm on a Tuesday. Before you get home you have to empty your brain of the things therapists know humans do to each other.
You have to “leave at the office” all the worries you hold in your heart for the clients you care about. Because when you get home, there is a new group of people you care about and they need you too. Your significant other needs a partner and your children need a parent and your pet needs an owner and your house needs a caretaker. So you need to take off one hat to put on another. Eventually you relax, because really, there is so much to be thankful for. You sleep and you wake up. And you do it all again.
This sounds stressful and terrible, so who would live this “day in the life of a therapist” gig? The fact is that thousands of us chose to do this work and we aren’t crazy for wanting to do it. We do it because out of those 8-10 sessions that day, there will be a client who has a break through. Who learns something new, is validated in a new way or who is freed of a demon that they carried for too many years.
A month ago, I had a grown man crying in my office as he silently forgave himself for something he didn’t cause and couldn’t anticipate–a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on his tour of duty that killed everyone in his convoy except for him. Before that session, he had blamed himself for surviving. In that session, he began to believe that he wasn’t to blame and he didn’t need to feel guilty for surviving. For serving. THAT is why we deal with the whirlwind schedule and the paperwork and the carrying of all of the burdens. That is why we live in the in-between of crisis and calm. Because every so often we see a life break wide open in a way that signals new birth. To be witness to that new thing is one of the most amazing privileges.
When I was in graduate school, a professor of mine shared this quote and it changed the way that I saw my role as a Therapist. This may be the best thing that I can share to describe the “day in the life” of my kind. I am so lucky to get to do this. I pray I never have a good reason to quit. I pray I am always a part of the overcoming.
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” – Helen Keller
Your Mental Health Matters, Mama! Any Therapist will agree and you can read more about how to be there for yourself here: https://quadcity.momcollective.com/2019/07/19/your-mental-wellness-matters-i-see-you-mama/
Why self-care is important!
Is a work-life balance even possible? Find out here: https://quadcity.momcollective.com/2017/09/27/work-life-balance/