Negative Thinking, Burn Out and Transformation

Spending a number of years (quite a few) working as a mental health counsellor with students and staff members and including the public-at-large both in the home community and at distance, I have learned more about myself than if I had stayed in the role of being counselled. University majors, continuing education courses, and certificate courses were added to the “skills” bag, as well as dedicated non-credit studying for several decades. You would think that somewhere along the way I would have figured out a few answers or two. But, to tell the truth, it seems that what I don’t know is growing by leaps and bounds faster than I could ever read. Here it is decades later and I wonder how I have the gall to call myself a psychotherapist. Why would I even risk pitting my growing ignorance of the human psyche against the against the mental health issues of those who are so broken as to find their way to my office, virtual or face-to-face?

It is easy to get caught in such negative thinking and effectively burn out as a counsellor. The same kind of thinking assaults all of us in all kinds of professions and life choices including the choice to engage in naturist or nudist practices. There is an element of doubt in almost everything we do. Sometimes we manage to convince ourselves and others around us that we “have our shit together” in our work and home lives. But when we dare to be honest with ourselves, we know the truth. I have an example to share with you from my practice (name omitted and anything else that would identify the person).

One of my clients was a parish minister for one of the Protestant faiths that are relatively numerous in western Canada. He was married and had a beautiful family and was very well respected by his parishioners as well as others in his home community. We had met on occasion as equals in the field of counselling as he acted as a pastoral counsellor for his parish. One day, he approached me with the request that I become his counsellor. Now this is something quite normal to occur between counsellors as we do need to clean up all the stuff that sticks because of transference issues.

The surprise for me was that the visit (and sessions that followed) had nothing to do with what I had expected. My friend and colleague had entered into a period of Dark Nights where he was filled with doubts about his value as a pastor, as a counsellor, and even as a father.  He had entered a period where midlife along with a crisis of faith had him beginning to believe he was unfit, unskilled, unworthy of the work he was doing. We worked together through the images and scenes that needed to be addressed to his satisfaction. His crisis of faith shifted and returned to his work with renewed passion – he had his shit back together.

My own confidence as a counsellor fell apart and my practice came to an end while I focused on simply surviving until retirement from education. But now, confidence is returning and I am once again finding myself giving help in small pieces, testing my attitudes, my skills, and even my desire to re-enter this demanding role. Perhaps my shit will come together and I will be ready before I get too old to become a guide for those needing one as they enter into their heroic journeys through the Dark Nights of the Soul.

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