Can we talk about how the culture of the mental health industry is essentially that healers should allow themselves to be ground up like beef in a meat-grinder, and only be attentive toward their own needs when they’re in danger of suicide?
What about how, as a mental health worker, when I say “No, really, I’m okay – happy even!” other industry professionals look at me like I must be putting on a facade or like they pity me because “I shouldn’t feel guilty for not being okay.” The fact of the matter is that, done right, a mental health practitioner should be able to maintain a personal balance WHILE helping others find a balance of their own. This work can be tiring of course, but while there can be painful moments, the work itself shouldn’t be painful.
In fact, since mental health struggles can be contagious for the empathetic (reference this article from Nation News), it should be considered a healer’s FIRST duty to take care of themselves. Chances are their clientele are an empathetic lot, and they’ll be able to see behind the face a sick healer paints on moments before a session.
From Bad to Worse
Mental health systems were already overwhelmed before COVID-19 even started, and the pandemic has resulted in a worldwide reassessment of the importance of mental health. The industry is surging not only to meet new demand, but to make adjustments in the ways we deal with mental health as individuals and as a society. Amidst those adjustments? Therapist are working themselves into burnout, depression, and worse. According to one USA Today article, many therapists have no idea how to approach treating the unprecedented mental health side effects of the pandemic, and they carry guilt for not knowing how to support their clientele.
Our Western world runs on regulation and policy, on ethics and boundaries. In Tennessee, we take new college graduates, subject them to 3000 hours of supervised client interaction, and send them into the world as licensed therapists. How does that prepare them for self-regulation or for dealing with unprecedented situations such as a pandemic? You can’t regulate resilience, and you can’t write wisdom into policy as a requirement for therapists. So what do we do?
The Path Forward
Our mental health systems might be flawed, but there are a lot of amazing humans working within that flawed framework. Since the United States remains a free, capitalist society, the answer is clear: we need more options for resources, and it should be up to the consumer’s discretion to decide which resources are worth their hard-earned dollar. As new resources develop, consumers can decide which therapist, life-coach, mentor, preacher, or healer is right for them, and they should do so with an attitude of empowerment, knowing that if it works for them, it’s a worthwhile investment.
According to a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation article, the number of people seeking training as a life coach has tripled during the pandemic, and life coaches are seeing a record number of clients as well. Since there is no governing board that oversees the life-coaching industry, a few bad eggs have earned life-coaches the reputation of being “would-be therapists that are too lazy to pursue licensure” or even “sharks who sell fake friendship to the sick.”
When it comes to mental health skills though, a combination of practical experience and education can be more effective than education alone. If you’re going to war, would you want the advice of a war veteran or an academic? Personally, I’d want both, and that’s the idea behind East TN Mentorship Association. As we grow, the intent is to vet capable resources so that consumers don’t have to – and to build a reputation as a dependable resource for anyone who needs some extra help in navigating their next steps.
Experience is what gives us the confidence to navigate difficult and unprecedented situations. Living through divorce, grief, ideation, addiction, abuse, and more and learning to self-regulate the conditions that follow is surely as educational as reading about said conditions in a book.
While the mental health industry is bound to continue to grow and change, the first hurdle facing young healers is gaining the experience necessary to be able to self-regulate and to help guide their clients without feeling like they’re crucifying themselves to do so. There are no saviors in mental health – there are practical skills, hard work, and trusting relationships – but the most important relationship a healer can have is their relationship with themselves. Otherwise, if it’s just the sick healing the sick, we’re sure to find that we have more than one pandemic on our hands.