Wednesday, May 23, 2012


It's not that I'm necessarily angry at one thing per se. In fact, as I write this I'm feeling calm and comfy here in my recliner. However, I keep noticing that things from my sessions creep in no matter how much I wish them not to. I can't seem to watch a television show or see a news clip without it somehow relating to my work. The term that is used to describe this sensation is Compassion Fatigue. This doesn't mean I'm losing my compassion, it just means that over time, I'm being eroded away bit by bit because of the intensity of my practice. I am the therapist who will take the ugly cases. I will go to court when necessary to stand by my clients and help advocate for them. I will take the stand and answer questions hurled at me like accusatory stones without batting an eye. I will battle with ignorant and poorly trained DCF workers (CPS to those of you from outside of CT). I will hear your six-year old when he describes in painstaking detail the sexual abuse perpetuated against him. I will go to the DCF office with you when your children are being taken from you because your scumbag ex-husband has lied about you for the sole purpose of hurting you. And he's winning. I will hear your stories of childhood abuse - physical, sexual, emotional, neglectful. I will use all the skills in my toolbox to help lessen your pain even if you are the abuser or cheater or addict because that is my job and my calling.

The real fatigue for me comes from feeling powerless. I am powerless to make situations better for my clients. I cannot fix things that are external and operate independently. I often say to my clients, "If I had a magic wand I would gladly wave it to fix this mess." Alas, I lack even the most basic of magical skills. I suspect my Hogwarts acceptance letter was lost in the mail.

Feeling powerless wears me down, as I'm sure it does to others. My job is not, unfortunately, to right wrongs or dole out punishments to abusers, liars, manipulators, or even straight up criminals. My job is to bear witness to the struggle for peace, acceptance, and healing. The best part of my job is the healing. Helping people grow despite their pain, take risks despite crippling fear, and emerge victorious one small step at a time is what keeps me in that chair. But there is a price to be paid for such satisfaction. In some cases it takes years before movement occurs. Watching people suffer for years over something they or I have no control over is heartbreaking. And infuriating. I often find myself wishing I were born into the Mafia so I could just order hits on the bad guys and make everything awful go away.

And what makes it even harder is society's interpretation of therapists in general. We are perceived to be the most fucked up, the most traumatized, the biggest messes. And some of us are. More, however, have indeed been through the wringer but we've come out smarter, kinder, more developed and insightful than we ever could have been if life had been easy.

So take a moment and breathe. Feel the weight lift off your shoulders for a minute, an hour, a day, whatever you are able. And thank your therapist for being there and bearing witness, for surviving whatever he or she went through to get to the other side, but most of all, just for listening.


  1. I did my senior project on compassion fatigue. Thank you for being awesome :)