I think that if you ask a millennial what their dealbreakers in a relationship are, the chances are high that you’ll get quite a list. The truth of the matter is that marriage isn’t what it used to be. More people are getting married and changing their minds about it afterwards. There’s also the trend of getting married later in life so marriage is not seen as the only avenue to financial stability. We see better examples of co-parenting and amicable splits. Our parents and grandparents may have stayed married because they felt that they had to but millennials don’t feel the same way. We know that life is too short to be with someone that you can’t stand and that you can’t put a price on peace. It’s one thing to be married but another thing entirely to be happily married. No relationship is worth keeping at your own detriment just to say that you “hung in there.” Lately, I’ve met quite a few middle-aged people who are staying in relationships where their partner is actively sabotaging their goals. Their sole reason for staying is because “Jesus hates divorce.” And at the end of the day they have to make a decision for themselves or for the relationship. I personally believe that being alone is better than being alone in a relationship ESPECIALLY when it’s not healthy. Regardless of age, it’s important to put yourself first because no one else ever will.
One thing that has been nice about relocating across the country and starting something new is that I’ve had the chance to do more work in direct practice. A lot of this year was spent being a desk in my cubicle and while my work had an impact on a lot of people, I wasn’t working directly with clients. One thing that I’ve had a chance to see up close is the fragility of life and how quickly things can change–especially working in a hospital. Instead of being in the background I’m on the front lines answering questions, de-escalating situations, talking to concerned family members, and a list of other things that don’t full under the “medical” category. Each day is unpredictable and there are multiple interruptions and interventions that have to be made in addition to all the daily duties. There are multiple impromptu therapy sessions where I process varying emotions with clients that almost always consist of frustration, anger, and helplessness in some regard. There are constant adjustments to make and people to call or talk to in order to coordinate resources. But it’s made me more grateful for the things that are typically taken for granted, like the use of my limbs or the ability to move around without an assistive device. All that being said, carrying the emotional weight of people who are going through major life changes and have to adjust to a new way of living along with their families can be draining (to say the least). It’s definitely made me become more aware of the need for all social workers (including myself) to do something for self-care. I’ve had to pull some things out of my own toolbox to ensure that I’m able to be emotionally present for my clients. In a profession where burnout happens frequently, it’s imperative to take care of yourself so that you can competently and compassionately take care of others. You owe it to you.
Not too long ago I ran across an interesting article and immediately shared it with a friend who also agreed wholeheartedly with the author. You can read it here. As a therapist I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve talked to clients about accepting themselves and not basing their happiness on the presence of another person. But let’s admit it, we all want acceptance, companionship, and validation. The author brings out a good point when she talks about a strange sort of contentment in doing your own thing 100% of the time. You don’t have to consult with anyone or let someone know where you’re going when you leave the house. It’s like settling into a homeostasis of sorts. You aren’t obligated to constantly think about the welfare of another person. If only you could order a significant other as easily as one does an Uber or Lyft. You could specify various characteristics that you wanted and then request. As promised, a companion would suddenly appear on your doorstep, the epitome of all your hopes and dreams. No heartache or second guessing because you’ve just met your soulmate and you know that you’ll live happily ever after. Let’s be real, there’s a certain amount of selfish that is perfectly acceptable being a single person that just won’t fly in a relationship. You can’t get your way and never compromise and still expect to have a successful partnership. The author brings out a good point when she discusses the constant self-analysis and diagnosis that happens when you try to make sense of a phenomenon that is supposed to occur within a certain time frame. I have to say that I agree with her conclusion.
One thing in life that is always inevitable is change. I remember imagining what I wanted to be when I grew up. I always imagined myself with stethoscope around my neck shouting orders in some emergency room as a trauma physician. Instead I ended up in mental health calming down psychotic people, explaining to parents why I was taking their child, and attempting to reason with psychiatrists. I worked in the mental health equivalent of the ER and found that I did enjoy it. It’s always been interesting to me how our life experiences can shape our perspectives and general outlook on life. If I had seen myself 5 years ago I would not have believed it. For me, the change happened once I was outside of the protective bubble of my family and the group of people who thought like me. It was eye opening to work with people who had a totally different set of beliefs and values than what I had been used to. There’s a lot of people who don’t agree with the traditional education system but it helped me to build my critical thinking skills. My post-graduate competency based program taught me how to conceptualize and justify every intervention that I did while doing therapy with clients. I think that it’s so important to be open minded. While I’m not saying that every varying perspective needs to be agreed with, I think that seeing something from another point of view is important.
First off, I want to say that while the title of this blog may bring back memories of the picture of Jay-Z wearing a shirt with these words emblazoned on his chest. This actually something of a sequel to one of my previous posts, Stepping Away. Well, maybe. When I’m wearing my therapist hat I’m always working for the benefit of my client. I am incredibly conscious of my own ideas and biases and i have to mentally put them to the side so that I can be in the moment. There have been hundreds of times where I did not agree with my client’s actions. He or she may have done something that I would have never even dreamed about doing, but it happened. Many times my clients have negative consequences as a result of their actions and they must then pick up the pieces and live with the decision that they made. One thing I said a few posts ago is that sometimes you can only know that you’ve done good work by walking away from it and discovering if it will stand on its own. Recently I had the chance to witness the results of my work and it was a good feeling to see years of work finally coming together after a long period of doubting if the results would ever be what I wanted. While I can say that the results were not everything that I was hoping and dreaming for, they were perfect in their own context. There’s a certain freedom that comes from letting people make their own choices and empower themselves. While you may offer suggestions as to how do to it, the final decision is theirs. You don’t take responsibility for their actions and you don’t judge or criticize their choices. One thing that I’ve learned as a therapist is that you have to respect the choices of others. While one can manipulate and strategize all day, there is nothing like a definite decision your client makes that you know will help them to have a better quality of life. The flip side is that you have to also allow them to make those stupid decisions without chiming in and telling them what you would do if you were in their shoes. You respect their right to self-determination and are supportive instead of just telling them what they need to do. And that’s a good thing.
The training to become a social worker is arduous, demanding, and complex. What isn’t always stressed enough are the issues of burnout, compassion fatigue, and the need for self care in the profession of social work.
I saw this article and thought about how applicable it is to my life right now. As someone who works in the field, this has to be one of the best articles I’ve read on the reality of burnout for social workers that is typically ignored. My absolute favorite quote from the author: “In our work, although we are surrounded by people all day long, there is not a balanced give and take. Concentration is on clients, not ourselves. In the truest sense, we are alone—we are the givers, and our fulfillment comes from seeing the growth, hope, and new direction in those with whom we are privileged to work.” I don’t think that truer words have ever been spoken. I’m a huge proponent of self-care but admittedly have a hard time taking my own advice. It’s easier said than done when you are by nature a giver and you put the best interests of others before yours and don’t impose your opinions on others deliberately on a daily basis. Any deviation from this can be self-perceived as selfishness. However, the article brings home the fact that self-care is necessary because it helps you to operate from a place of being okay. Still have a lot to learn in that department.
I don’t do therapy as much as I used to and one thing that I enjoyed about the process was building rapport with clients. I once heard someone say that if you can’t build rapport within the first 15 minutes of a professional relationship, your chances are pretty much shot. The truth is that we expect people who are professionals we are paying to know what they are talking about. No one really wants a therapist who only has listening skills but has no knowledge base of interventions. A good friend with common sense can accomplish that. The thing about rapport is that it can be built fast or very slow depending on the situation. One of the easiest ways in the therapy room is to do an introduction of yourself and some cool non-personal facts about you. This helps to break the ice and encourages the client to open up about his or her dislikes. Emphasizing that questions are always welcome and adopting a collaborative approach to therapy can also be awesome tools to build rapport. As a therapist, I have to constantly be aware of the amount of rapport I have with each client. While some may trust me starting from session one, it may take six sessions for that to happen with another client. The more rapport I have with a client, the more I can push them out of their comfort zone and challenge them. If they know they can trust me they will feel safe enough to be uncomfortable and work on things that they hide from other people. While I make a very clear distinction between doing therapy and listening to the challenges of friends or associates around me, the rapport thing still holds true. While I’m not going to do a full-fledged intervention with a friend, I have to be aware of how much rapport I have with him or her and choose my words accordingly. Established and secure friendships will get a more candid and unfiltered response while associates and acquaintances will get a more blanket and general response. It’s all related to the rapport I have with them. There are many times I’ve wanted to give a more candid response to an associate or acquaintance but the fact that I do not have enough rapport with them for them to not be offended has stopped me. I conceptualize rapport as being a bank. Deposits happen when there are similar interests, trust is present, and there’s a sense of emotional safety. Withdrawals occur when you have to say something that is uncomfortable or may cause the other person to be offended. If you have enough rapport in the bank with them they won’t lash out at you because you’ve put time into building rapport. If there is not enough rapport in the bank you go into overdraft with a very angry and offended person with the risk of alienation because you overstepped the boundaries of the relationship.