This week I had the great fortune of engaging in meaningful dialogue with a group of my supervisees. There were many topics up for discussion but one really captured my attention – “How do we find work in the field that is not traumatizing?”
This may seem like a loaded question, but I don’t perceive it that way. To me, this question is a reflection how often people feel victimized in their work. Make no mistake – I do not believe we are victims. However, these are the complaints I hear frequently, the ones I believe contribute to the victim-of-bad-opportunities narrative:
- Low paying jobs relative to the expense of being a therapist (student loans, maintenance of licensure, supervision fees, professional development costs). Work that requires overtime in order to earn a living.
- An overload of high risk clients or crisis line work without sufficient variety in work duties to recover from the intensity of the work.
- Work settings that offer counseling, but not in the position that the aspiring counselor is assigned. Limited or no flexibility to support the counselor’s career development.
- Disorganized settings where post graduates are presumed to be sufficiently prepared for every work setting and population.
- Settings that require excessive case note scrutiny and documentation for the primary purpose of third party payment.
If You Want More, Stop Accepting Less
Often therapists believe that they should be grateful for the opportunities they find, whether they are the opportunities they desire or not.
The choices people find themselves making pre-independent licensure and post licensure are between undesirable jobs and less desirable jobs. This is not because there are not desirable jobs to be had.
It is mostly because people are often pre-conditioned to accept less than what they want in hopes that if they “pay their dues,” they will receive more of what they want. Yes, we need to learn our craft and improve it. But don’t believe the story that you must “pay your dues.” There is a slippery slope from this belief to accepting abusive work conditions disguised as initiation into the field. Some social groups engage in harmful initiation processes. I’ve never been and never will be a member of those groups. But becoming a therapist is not nor should be one of them.
We are all initiated into our respective professions by way of our developmental journey, receiving mentoring and collecting growth experiences. However, any environment in which someone utters the phrase “you gotta pay your dues…I paid mine,” is one you should leave. This is one sure way to avoid working in a traumatizing environment.
Quite simply, if you want more from your work, you can’t accept less than reasonable circumstances. In fact, you must know that there are optimal opportunities out there, as long as you are open to them.
Stop staying in jobs that cost your health, well-being, esteem etc… jobs that do very little to minimize secondary trauma and expect you to work more with less.
Stop accepting conditions that make you feel devalued and harm your esteem.
Stop accepting work settings that are actually unacceptable to you because you are afraid or even because you need money.
In fact, I am all for people doing work outside of counseling that makes them feel healthy and vital until they can find full-time or supplemental work that allows them to work toward licensure.
I am in fact saying that some of the work isn’t worth what it costs you. It is not up to me to determine what those unacceptable work settings are for you. We all have different capacities. We all have different goals and interests.
Develop a clear self awareness of what is and isn’t for you. Do not pattern yourself after others without having detailed knowledge about their experience and about their journey.
Most of all, stop accepting less in hopes that it will somehow count on some imaginary checklist that tallies up what you deserve and what you don’t deserve.
You can co-create the career you want.
Copyright © 2018 Ruby Blow. All rights reserved.
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