A Personal Note On Suicide

A Personal Note On Suicide

***TRIGGER WARNING- This article contains information about suicide which may be upsetting to some people. If you or anyone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide please call your local suicide hotline or visit http://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/

Suicide sucks. Plan and simple. It always seems to hit us when we least expect it and it always hurts. It doesn’t matter the age, the circumstance. It always feel like a life was taking before its time.

The last half of 2018 has been a helluva time for me. Over the past 6 months I have dealt with the deaths of five people who were either directly or indirectly under my care. One died of an accidental heroin overdose, the other four were suicides by hanging.

I have seen CPR performed heroically and tirelessly, but in vain on two of those deaths and it is an indescribable feeling to see someone I knew, someone I had spoken to earlier that day, laying on the ground motionless. Someone so young (one was in her twenties, the other in her thirties) and so full of life at one point, now lifeless.

Suicide is an unfortunate evil we have to deal with in the mental health field. My current job puts me in the role of dealing with suicidal patients all day long.

I am used to dealing with suicidal patients, even patients who attempt suicide or self-injure, but I am and never will be used to dealing with completed suicides. I take each death personally, even if professionally and ethically my staff and myself did everything we could to prevent it.

Suicide is often an impulsive act. At least one of the suicides appears to have been the result of rage. Suicide is often thought of as anger turned inward.

Suicide sometimes builds overtime and is the result of unbearable psyche pain. Three of the suicides, at least on the surface, appear to have been thought out. One woman was grieving over the loss of her sister and blaming herself for her sisters death. She was filled with depression and guilt she found insufferable. Another man was facing a lengthy prison sentence and decided he would rather die than go back to prison and spent years locked away. He was the only one who left a suicide letter behind. It was obviously something he had given some thought to.

Suicide, as we have seen too often lately, is sometimes the result of bullying, which appears to have been the case in the last suicide and another serious suicide attempt a couple of weeks after that one. Adults in correctional settings who are exposed to bullying are at high risk for suicide.

There weren’t any obvious warning signs that could have prevented any of these deaths. Accept for the accidental heroin overdose, these individuals seemed to have been determined, in those moments, to end their lives. I wish I could have saved them. I wish I could have saved them all. I cried after each of those suicides because I knew those individuals, maybe not terribly intimately, but as close as you can professionally under these circumstances.

I even thought about resigning because I felt like we failed them although multiple internal and external reviews showed that we did not. However, I know that for these five lives lost, there a countless numbers of suicides we have prevented. And that’s what keeps me going. That’s what keeps us all going.

 

 

 

 

Being A Psychotherapist: Things School and Books Can’t Really Prepare You For Part Two: Suicidal Clients

Another thing school and books can’t really prepare you for are suicidal clients. Sure they cover the subject of suicide in graduate school, but the training of dealing with suicidal patients is usually very brief. There are many great books on working with suicidal clients and I have read a few, but I don’t think anything can really prepare you for sitting face to face with and working with a suicidal patient.

From my experiences, there are many types of suicidal clients and they all have to be taken seriously.

There’s the client who doesn’t really want to commit suicide, but they like to self-injure and that self-injurious behavior may lead to an accidental suicide. These are often the most common types of clients, often called “cutters” and they tend to be the most frustrating since a lot of them have cluster b type personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder.

When I worked in a high school I had a whole group full of students who self-injured and ended up involuntarily hospitalizing at least one every month because while they said they weren’t suicidal, they were definitely at times flirting with death.

This picture was taken of one of my former students who likes to cut. The next day she had twice as many cuts on her arm and I was forced to involuntarily hospitalize her.
This picture was taken of one of my former students who likes to cut. The next day she had twice as many cuts on her arm and I was forced to involuntarily hospitalize her.

There’s also the suicidal client who is extremely depressed or emotionally unstable and talks about death and suicide a lot. They typically don’t self-injure and have never tried to commit suicide and don’t think they ever would, but they talk about it so often and their emotional pain is so deep that when they leave your office you often wonder if this will be the last time you ever see them.

These type of clients can also be very stressful to deal with. Often when I have had clients like this I found myself worrying about them when I wasn’t even at work, when I was on vacation,  when they didn’t show up for an appointment and sometimes I even dreamt about them.

One patient in particular was diagnosed with a terminal disease and she didn’t want to die a slow death. She didn’t think she would kill herself, but all she talked about was death and dying and her depression was so deep that it was hard to not be concerned about her when she missed an appointment. Eventually I had to hospitalize her after one particularly draining and emotional session when she couldn’t promise me she wasn’t going to go home and try to kill herself. Everything inside of me was screaming she would. She was angry that I hospitalized her against her will, but told me in later sessions that she had every intent of going home and killing herself that day and thanked me.

Another type of suicidal client is the one who never talks about suicide. Some are impulsive, but many just keep their thoughts and feelings buried deep inside.  They may never even tell anyone that they are in pain. They just attempt or commit suicide without any real warning signs. These clients take not only you by surprise, but everyone else in their lives too.

I once worked with a student for two years dealing with the grief of a parent and then one day he gave me a card thanking me for helping him. It was our last session, he was doing great. Less than a week later I got a call from his family telling me he had attempted suicide and was in critical condition at a local hospital. I was stunned. I rushed to the hospital and nearly broke down in tears as I looked down at his lifeless body. I kept replaying our last sessions together, our last interactions, his last words to me, trying to figure out what did I miss. Thank goodness he came out of his comatose state after a few days and I was grateful that he not only lived, but that I had the opportunity to process his suicide attempt with him. I didn’t miss anything. He had suddenly decided he didn’t want to live any more and wanted to be with his deceased parent.

A couple of years before that I had been part of a crisis team that was sent to two different schools after two students had killed themselves apparently out of the blue. One was a popular jock that killed himself and stunned the whole community because no one, not even his closes friends knew that he was in so much emotional and psychological pain. His friends, family and even school staff members were blaming themselves for not seeing signs that weren’t even there.

The other student apparently killed himself on impulse in the midst of an angry dispute with his girlfriend. He told her he was going to hang himself. She didn’t believe him, but that’s exactly what he did. He had no history of being suicidal and no one saw it coming.

In my nearly 8 year career as a psychotherapist I’ve dealt with hundreds of suicidal clients. My main job right now is interacting with inmates who have been flagged as suicidal. Luckily I have not had one client commit suicide although I have had a few who have made serious suicide attempts landing them in the emergency room.

Studies suggest that:

  • 1 in 4 interns/trainees will have a patient who attempts suicide at some point during their training and 1 in 9 will experience a completed patient’s suicide.
  • 25% of psychologists and 50% of psychiatrists will experience a patient’s suicide.
  • 1 in 6 psychiatric patients who die by suicide die in active treatment with a healthcare provider.
  • Approximately 50% of those who die by suicide in America will have seen a mental health provider at some time in their life.
  • Work with suicidal patients is considered the most stressful of all clinical endeavors. One third of psychotherapists who experienced a patient’s suicide subsequently suffer from severe emotional distress. Several factors may contribute to such severe distress including failure to hospitalize a suicidal patient who then died; a treatment decision that the therapist may feel contributed to the suicide; negative reactions from the therapist’s institution; and the fear of a lawsuit by the patient’s relatives.
  • 25 % of family members of suicidal patients take legal actions against the patient’s mental health treatment team.

As a coincidence, just as I was finishing this post I was informed that an inmate just purposely swallowed 18 Ativan pills in an attempted suicide and is being rushed to the hospital.

Being A Psychotherapist: Things School and Books Can’t Really Prepare You For Part One: Mental Fatique

iStock_000024633998Medium-744x418To be a psychotherapist takes years of school and a lot of reading and writing about various aspects of human behavior. Many students fresh out of school with not much patient contact or real therapeutic hours under their belt, think that they fully know what it is like to be a therapist. They don’t. While school and books definitely prepare you for sounding like a trained therapist, nothing but real experience and hundreds of hours of patient contact, can prepare you for even the basics of what it’s like to be a therapist.

Many people who see me doing my job say, “I want to do that” and I never discourage them. I just tell them that if they are doing it from their hearts then they should pursue it. If they are doing it because they think it pays well, then they should seek another career. If they are doing it because it looks easy, then they should definitely seek another career. Even students who have spent years in undergrad and then graduate school are disillusioned and thus disappointed when they actually start seeing clients of their own. A few, those meant to truly be in the field, will love it, even when it’s frustrating. Others will hate it, but stay because they’ve fooled themselves to believe they are supposed to be therapist, and most end up becoming very bad therapists… or program directors. A large portion will leave the field altogether and seek employment that is more fulfilling and they should.

So what are the things that school and books can’t prepare you for when it comes to being a psychotherapist? Well I will cover one topic every now and then instead of trying to cram a top 10 list, but we’ll start with mental fatigue.

Being a psychotherapist is exhausting. Sure it’s not the same as lifting bricks all day, but it’s a different kind of exhaustion. People will say, all you do is sit and listen all day, how can that be exhausting. Well actively listening, being thoughtful, sustaining alertness, using your memory and paying attention to someone for 50 minute stretches throughout the day is very draining. Not to mention the stories you hear and have to process. Stories that are sometimes so sad that you have to hold yourself back from tears, or stories that trigger counter-transference issues because they remind you of some part of your own life.

There is also other things that make it taxing such as doing notes, scheduling, dealing with insurance companies and billing. There’s also that part about managing risks, having to figure out how much of a risk someone is to themselves or others. My main job right now is assessing suicidality in inmates who have exhibited a risk for suicide. It can become very stressful.

On top of that, sometimes your friends and even strangers who meet you and find out you’re a psychotherapist will treat you differently.

Strangers will either be fascinated and want to tell you about their problems, or a “friends”, or they will not talk much out of fear that you are always analyzing people. We do know how to turn it off, well at least turn it down. Your friends will most likely have you as their default free therapist, yet will not offer you much advice/help since “you’re a therapist, you should be able to figure out your own problems.” Oh, I’ve heard that too many times.

It can be exhausting because being a therapist, once you’ve done it long enough, becomes who you are. You don’t leave it behind at 5pm, even when you think you do. It’s always there with you and if you aren’t careful and don’t take care of yourself, it will drain you.

The link below is to a very well written article that details some of the hardest and most exhausting parts about being a therapist.

The One Thing Every Psychotherapist’s Partner Doesn’t Get.

Six Things Therapists Don’t Want You to Know

Woman-with-finger-over-li-007As therapists, we want you to open up to us. To trust us enough to tell us things you may have never told anyone else. We want you to explore your deepest, darkest places and deal with things you may not even be aware that you were dealing with or avoiding. However, as therapist, there are some things that we keep from you and here is what I consider to be the top five.

1. “Sometimes You Bore Me.”

As therapists, we get paid to listen to other peoples problems and that may seem like an easy task, but it’s not. Sitting and listening to someone talk for 50 minutes can be mentally and emotionally draining, especially when the person talking is going on and on about something that is irrelevant to why they are actually in therapy. Sometimes it is hard to shut out our own internal chatter and (I feel guilty to admit this) it’s easy to start daydreaming or letting your mind wander instead of being attentive and present.

When I find this happening, it’s usually a clear sign to me that I need to redirect the client, or that whatever I am doing isn’t working and I need to try a different approach. Some clients however simply aren’t that interesting.

I remember running into a fellow therapist at the coffee machine saying she needed some extra caffeine because her next client was “a snoozer”. Fortunately, this is a rarity and not the norm, but if your therapist looks bored, it’s a good chance he or she is and it could be a clue to both of you that you aren’t really working on the real problem at hand, but dancing around it.

2. “You’re All Better, But I Want You To Keep Coming Back Because I Need Your Money.”

Therapist in private practice depend on their clients to make a living so, sometimes, even when therapy should come to an end, after the problems have been resolved, a therapist will keep rescheduling you to come back, even if you run out of things to talk about. They don’t want to let you go or to discharge you because that is taking money out of their pocket, so they will continue rescheduling you to come back as long as you or your insurance company continues to pay them.

Speaking of which, most insurance companies will only pay for a certain number of sessions so a therapist may want you to keep coming back until you’ve used up all your sessions and then, rather you are better or not, they may stop seeing you. That is unless of course you have the money to pay out of pocket, which can be costly. Most therapist charge anywhere from $75 to $200 an hour.

If you feel like your work is done with the therapist, but they continue rescheduling you to come back, it’s okay to bring this up to the therapist, to stop going to see the therapist or to get another one if you feel like your therapist is using you. A good therapist doesn’t want their client in therapy longer than necessary, even if discharging that client is going to take some money out of their pocket.

3. “Your Secrets Are Safe With Me… Sort Of.”

As therapist, we want you to feel safe talking to us and tell you that everything is confidential and we like to think that it is, but there are somethings that may not be confidential such as when someone talks about killing themselves, someone else, abuse, neglect, etc. Also, courts can demand to see our records in the event of a court case such as an employment dispute or divorce proceedings. As therapists, we generally fight to keep our records private and only release what we absolute must, but while we promise confidentiality, there are exceptions.

Also, therapist often consult with other therapists, but usually we keep names and irrelevant details out of the discussion. It’s not uncommon for therapists to discuss patients with friends and family even, but in those cases names and details are always kept out because violating confidentiality is against the law and a therapist can be sued if it’s proven that he or she violated their clients confidentiality.

4.  ” I May Need More Help Than You Do.”

Therapists are human. Sometimes therapists have problems consciously and unconsciously that they may not be able to deal with on their own, yet they still show up to the office everyday to help others. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can be. If your therapist is not in the right frame of mind and doesn’t know how to let his or her own problems go once face to face with a client, a litany of problems can occur.

Therapists aren’t supposed to give advice, but often we do and if your therapist is going through their own life situations, they may give you some very bad advice, not be present or make some very unhealthy decisions.

I’ve heard stories of therapists crying and confiding in their patients as if their patients were there own personal therapists, leaving the patient confused. I’ve also heard of therapist who were so cold and bitter while going through a divorce that they couldn’t be objective and empathetic when listening to their patients talk about their own relationships.

I’ve also known enough therapists who went into counseling and psychology (probably unconsciously) to help themselves and ended up being therapists who were just as neurotic, unstable and mentally unhealthy as many of the patients they were supposed to be helping.

This is where issues come into play like the therapist who slept with his or her patient, or had some other unhealthy, inappropriate dual relationship with a patient like having a patient temporarily live with them or being overly and unprofessionally involved with a client.

It is often advised that therapists have their own supervisors or therapists to talk to so that they can keep their personal and professional lives separate. Fortunately, most of the people I knew would make bad therapist ended up going into other fields.

5. “You Will Get A Diagnosis Rather You Deserve One Or Not”

Unfortunately, in this day and age of managed healthcare, everyone that has insurance has to get a diagnosis in order for the therapist to get paid. Sometimes this is easy because the patient obviously fits a certain diagnosis like depression or anxiety, but sometimes it’s not so obvious.

For example, when a patient is just dealing with typical life stressors that don’t meet criteria for a mental health diagnosis, the therapist will have to make a diagnosis fit if he or she wants to get paid.

Sometimes therapist will go for a “soft” diagnosis, like adjustment disorders, but some insurance companies won’t even pay for a “soft” diagnosis, so an adjustment disorder with depressed mood may be unnecessarily upgraded to major depressive disorder, single episode.  Your therapist may never tell you that you have been diagnosed, but you have been and at some point, if you care, you should ask what your diagnosis is.

A major part of my job is to diagnosis clients and everyone that enters my door leaves with a diagnosis if they didn’t have one already. I am always surprised at the number of patients who are referred to me with a current diagnosis, but when I ask them if they’ve been diagnosed with anything they either say “no” or “I don’t know”. These people are walking around with a diagnosis and don’t even know it.

6. “This May Hurt”

Most therapists won’t tell you up front that therapy can be emotionally and mentally painful. Most of the time we go to therapy because we are dealing with or avoiding some type of mental pain and we as therapist want to help you find it, confront it and deal with it. It can be pain that you know, like a recent divorce, or pain that you didn’t even realize was there, like how much you miss your dad that abandoned you when you were 3 and you haven’t thought of in over 10 years.

You may also come to some conclusions while you are in therapy, conclusions that may be difficult like ending a relationship, telling your mother how you really feel about the way she raised you or learning to say no to people you’ve always said yes to. A good therapist will be there with you and walk you through that pain, but most won’t tell you upfront how much this may hurt, otherwise, you might not go through with it.

Most therapists are good people who are in this field for the right reasons, not for the money (which isn’t great in the first place, but can be made), the power (some therapist like having a “God Complex”) or any other selfish reasons. Still, like in every profession there are good therapist and bad therapist and knowing how to identify a bad therapist can not only save you time and money, it may keep you from coming out of therapy worst off than you started.

Childrens Therapist: Yep That’s Me!

Preschool girl listening to teacher in classroomI like to share with my readers whenever anything changes or happens that I think is appropriate for you to know and recently I got a new job title, childrens therapist.

It’s funny how the universe works. Sometimes the more you try to avoid doing or dealing with something, the more you end up on a collision course to face it head on. That’s how I feel right now. I’ve been working in the field of counseling and psychology since 2006 and started off working with adults. In 2010 I started working with teenagers in an inner-city high school and absolutely loved it.

Around the same time I was offered an opportunity to work with younger kids, but cringed at the idea of doing therapy with kids who had trouble verbalizing and processing. Things such as play therapy were very foreign to me and when I started doing some in-home counseling I started seeing a few kids that were between the ages of 10 and 12. I quickly referred them out feeling both uncomfortable and unprepared to work with kids that young.

Well recently I changed jobs. I was looking to work more with clients and wanted to work with adults, but ended up landing a job as a childrens therapist within the last two weeks. I already have 10 clients, ranging from the ages of 4 to 14.  A four year old! Supposedly he has ADHD, and that may be the case, but I’ve met his parents and I am sure that their parenting skills aren’t the best so maybe with some parent training they’ll learn hoow to deal with him better and help shape him so that he doesn’t get stuck with the diagnosis of ADHD if it isn’t really appropriate.

I’m also being used in the capacity of a licensed evaluator to evaluate and diagnose kids who aren’t on my case load and have been giving the responsibilty of working with all the kids that are referred to the program through the department of juvenile justice.

It’s a bit overwhelming, challenging and exciting because there is so much I have to learn so that I can help these kids and their parents, especially the younger ones that traditional talk therapy doesn’t work with.

Earlier this week I was sitting with a 10 year old girl and we were doing pretty good. We were doing traditional talk therapy and she seemed to be doing fine with it and I remember thinking, “this isn’t so bad”, but about halfway through it she asked “can we color”. I was thrown off for a second, but then laughed to myself as I remembered she was a kid and told her “yes we can color”. And so we colored, and talked and it was pretty cool!

I have my first child who just turned 6 months over the weekend and here I am being thrown into the role of a childrens therapist. It’s like the universe had this whole thing set up and sometimes that’s just the way I think life works. At the same time, it’s forcing me to get out of my comfort zone, something I am always telling clients to do and I have so much I have to learn that I feel like a student again.

I have read this great book I have talked about before called The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog: And Other Stories From a Child Psychiatrists’ Note Book by Bruce Perry. It is a book that talks about the horrific effects of childhood trauma, some intentional, and some unintentional in the form of neglect and ignorance.

As I revisit that book, it helps me put into focus the importance of the work I can do with these children. Yes, many of them have genetic predispositions to things like ADHD and mood disorders, but a lot of them are being raised by people and in environments that are causing them to respond a certain way.

It is my job if I can, to help correct this through therapy and parent education so that these kids have the best opportunity possible to turn into healthy children and eventually successful adults.

In the book, there is one story about a boy who was being raised mostly by a mother who had some type of mental disorder so while she took care of the child, he basically stayed alone in his crib without any interaction for 6 to 8 hours a day. He learned not to cry because no one was coming to help him. He grew up with unable to have feelings for other people and as an older teen, eventually murder two girls, raped their dead bodies and then stomped on them. Even in prison he showed no remorse and blamed the girls for not allowing him to do whatever he wanted to do. He didn’t even have any regrets other than getting caught.

Some of the kids I’ve seen, the parents have already written them off as bad apples and just want them put on medication so that they don’t have to deal with them. I can see that if these kids aren’t shown love, support, guidance and limitations, they will grow up to be criminals or in the very less, incapable of having healthy relationships with anyone.

Also, they have already gave me some great blog ideas. I’ve already unfortunately diagnosed some of them with ADHD, mood disorder, anxiety disorder, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and pervasive developmental disorder.

These may just be another stop on my journey to become the best overall therapist I can be, but I am going to cherish and learn from every moment and experience and do the absolute best I can to make a difference in each childs life.   I’ll keep you guys posted along the way.

My Journey To Becoming A Therapist

couch_wide-eb7410d70ac8d556c8331f723e49c918ec26f2dd-s6-c10“What made you want to become a therapist?” That’s one of the most frequent questions I get asked by adults, many who marvel at me as if the ability to sit with, empathize, listen to and accept someone just as they are is some mystical superpower bestowed upon a select few.

Many follow that question by saying that they wouldn’t be able to deal with talking with “crazy people” or emotionally disturbed children all day without going crazy themselves, even saying that they can’t  deal with their own children, friends or family members when they are angry, sad or being irrational.

There was a time when I thought that counseling was something any and everyone could do, but now I know that not everyone can or should be a therapist. I’ve met some very bad therapists, people who may have had the education and credentials to counsel people, but definitely didn’t have the heart, patience or personality that is just as important if not more so.

Thankfully, most of these counselors learned pretty quickly that sitting down and helping someone unravel the complexities of their lives weren’t for them and ended up either getting out of the helping profession all together or moved to a part of the field that was less people oriented, such as working for insurance companies or becoming program directors.

I’ve witnessed teachers, administrators and other professional adults with good intentions do some very bad counseling. Some even made me cringe at either their bad advice, judgmental attitudes or total lack of empathy and I honestly was very thankful and relieved that these individuals weren’t officially counselors.

Being a therapist pretty much comes natural to me. Growing up I was always a very intuitive, carrying and empathetic person. I was always in touch with my feelings and would spend ours alone just trying to figure out why I felt a certain way. That curiosity soon lead to wandering why other people felt certain ways and why they did or didn’t do certain things. People watching became one of my favorite past-times.

In high school I was the person that girls would call and talk to about their problems with their parents, friends or boyfriends. I enjoyed helping them figure out and solve their problems  just as I enjoyed sitting in deep reflection about my own. I was probably one of the only boys in my high school that keep a journal and read self-help books.

Still, at that time I wasn’t even thinking about becoming a counselor. At that time I was interested in becoming a writer, an artist, a dentist or a meteorologist.

In college I decided I wanted to lean towards becoming a writer or an English teacher. I enjoyed writing just as I do today and it was writing that lead me to psychology. I was always interested in making my characters real and multi-dimensional which lead me to reading books on character development and eventually personalities and personality disorders.

There I found my love for psychology.

Soon I started taking every psychology course I could because I found it interested, but even more so because it helped with my writing. This is where I came in contact with Dr. Skinner who was not only my favorite psychology professor, but also became one of my first and most important mentor. He was always encouraging me to further my education in psychology which is one of the main reasons I decided to go on to graduate school.

In graduate school I initially was going to become a guidance counselor because I wanted to work with teenagers, but after taking all the courses required for guidance counseling, I still felt a hunger to learn more about psychology and counseling in general and so I transferred to the counseling and psychology track which was a lot of hard work when it came to reading, writing papers and giving presentations almost constantly.

It was learning the stuff I loved which is why I maintained a 4.0 throughout graduate school while working as a substitute teacher.

It was in graduate school that I started doing official counseling, and I was terrified!  To graduate from the program you had to do a 1,000 hour internship, not with friends or people I already knew, but complete strangers. To make it worst, I knew that I never wanted to be a substance abuse counselor and yet, my internship was at an inpatient substance abuse facility. I was determined to hate it.

I grew up in an inner-city neighborhood. I grew up around drug addicts. I already had my prejudices about people who used drugs and didn’t want to have to deal with them more than I already had growing up.

My dad also had struggled with substance addiction pretty much my whole life. He had been in and out of numerous treatment facilities and I had decided that substance abuse counseling just didn’t work. I tried my hardest to get my internship site changed, but couldn’t.

By the end of my 1,000 hour internship filled with individual, group and family counseling, I had a new respect for those who struggle with addictions and their families. I met people who had been trying to get sober since the 1970s! I met a popular high school football coach who gave up everything, his wife, kids and his prized job for alcohol.

I met women, mothers and daughters, so addicted to drugs and alcohol that their families had them committed to treatment and they were some of the sweetest women you could ever meet, who struggled everyday to control their cravings and stay clean.

Sure it was hard work, sometimes frustrating, disappointing and hard breaking (relapse is a b*tch), but it helped me deal with one of my own demons… it helped me understand my father and his battle with addiction so much better. It allowed me to forgive him.

After graduating I moved on from addiction counseling, perhaps it was still too close to home, and went to work in a psychiatric hospital. I always wanted to work with the severely mentally ill. dsmiv-c317a8bc457aaab1c0fb6b1a1de2b813d655dd09-s6-c10

In the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) taught to us in school, I had learned so much about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other conditions that are rarely seen, yet I wanted to experience them face to face.

I spent three years working overnight in the psychiatric hospital giving psychological evaluations and crisis counseling to some of the most fascinating people ever.

I’ll never forget talking to a rather lucid schizophrenic woman who was having visual hallucinations. She gave me the best explanation of visual hallucinations ever, better than any professor or textbook I had ever read.

I remember trying to calm down a paranoid schizophrenic woman who was shaking like a leaf because she believed a killer was locked in the hospital with us and was specifically trying to kill her.

And I remember giving an evaluation to a tomato red faced woman (all the blood vessels in her face had broken) who had just been released from the hospital after trying to hang herself after finding out her husband was cheating on her.

So many experiences came from my time there, but I knew I was missing out on truly developing my counseling skills. One of my goals was to become a licensed mental health counselor, which is a whole lot of extra work after graduate school and I believed to be a great therapist, I had to know how to not only assess, diagnose and do crisis counseling, but also how to do more traditional counseling with clients who had more everyday type problem.

I still longed to work with children as well so I left the hospital and started working at an inner city high school, focusing mainly on anger management and substance abuse, but soon my job description expanded to include pretty much any and everything that stood in a child’s way of being able to concentrate and focus on their school work.

This is where I learned to work with defiant teens, broken families, damaged teens and teens who just needed someone to guide, care for and encourage them. This is where I saw our future, both promising and disheartening.

While here I also attained my goal of becoming a licensed mental health counselor and continue to learn every single day.

One of the most important things I learned is self-care and to take breaks for myself. Carrying the weight of so many other peoples problems can sneak up on you and break you down before you know it. Sometimes when people know you are a counselor, they will purposely or inadvertently dump their problems on you and that includes family and friends. It becomes important to take the counseling hat off sometimes and if that means going and sitting some place alone, then that’s what I will do.

Being a counselor/therapist is a very rewarding career, but it is probably one of the most mentally and emotionally draining careers I can think of. I enjoy the skills I have developed to analyze people, to read body languages and to be able to already have some ideal what’s going on with a person before he or she even says a word, but sometimes it’s hard to turn that off which sometimes impact my personal life.

One minute a friend will be asking me for advice or wanting to talk to me about a problem, but they don’t want me to “counsel” them. Then the next minute when I make a statement, they will stay “get out of my head” or “stop analyzing me”.

Sometimes I am more comfortable when I am in the counseling role and I will find myself retreating to that mode whenever I am uncomfortable or meeting someone new… not always a good thing. I realize it’s a defense mechanism I use where I limit the amount of information a person knows about me while I gain tons of information about them. That isn’t really fair, but I do it all the time and most people are so happy to talk about themselves that they never call me out on or even notice it.

Lastly, another thing I’ve learned is that being authentic with someone… being present with them and actively listening does miracles. There’s been times when I listened to someone and was present with them, but had no real ideal what to do or say, and after our session they were so grateful to me for listening to and helping them. It’s amazing. Sometimes I didn’t even say a word and yet they would be so grateful. That’s why I stress so much on listening, rather than talking in this blog. I believe that listening sometimes solves more problems than talking, lecturing or berating someone.

STDs and Pregnancy Scares: My Week In Review

immigration.istock-e1335353696609Last week was a super busy and crazy week. It seemed like I couldn’t get a handle on anything. On top of the many clients I already see, the referrals were pouring in and I only got a chance to meet with a couple of those, the most serious ones, two girls who had attempted suicide recently and had been hospitalized.

I met with both of them once and just kind of introduced myself, explained what counseling was and wasn’t since neither one of them had ever been in counseling before, and then started trying to build rapport with them. Both are very damaged young ladies, but I think we all are to some extent. They both, just from their presence, scream some type of past history of abuse to me, and one is living with a parent with a severe mental illness and drug addiction, so you can imagine the affects that will have on a teenager.

Besides that I had two clients that thought they might be pregnant. One is 17 and one is 16 and the sad thing is, as much as they say they don’t want to be pregnant, I think they really do want to be pregnant because neither one of them are doing anything to prevent becoming pregnant. If they aren’t pregnant, then it’s probably only a short matter of time before they will be.

Neither of them are mentally mature enough to be mothers, despite their biological maturation. One is really naive and I am sure she thinks that being pregnant will make the boy she’s sleeping with (who is not her boyfriend) commit to her. The other has severe low-self esteem and is very emotionally unstable, she says she is ready to be a mother, but mentally she acts about two years below her chronological age.

Talking to these young ladies, it’s clear that neither one of them have any idea of the dedication and sacrifice that goes into being a parent, but they don’t see a baby as a responsibility, but as a solution to one problem or another.

Still on the topic of teenage sex, another female client came to me crying because she thinks she may have a sexually transmitted disease. I referred her to the school nurse and then to a community clinic since she doesn’t want her mother to know.

This girl is very sexually active and at 16, claims she has had about 20 sexual partners. She doesn’t open up much, but I am working on helping her build her self-esteem and I am almost 100% sure that there is a history of sexual abuse, but she hasn’t disclosed that as of yet. She talks a lot about her mother, whom I haven’t met yet, but from what the she says, her mother seems to be just as promiscuous and I am sure that affects this client’s behavior and relationships with males.

We did talk about her father whom she felt abandoned her when she was young and I think that explains at least in part why she is always trying to be with one guy or several. That on top of her mother’s influences on her and her low self-esteem (she once told me that the only thing she likes about herself was her hair), all contribute to her risky sexual behavior.

She’s supposed to go to the clinic this week so hopefully she’ll find out that everything is okay or at least is treatable.

And then on Friday, while I was facilitating a group, I looked up and saw two female sheriff detectives standing at my door. I was immediately dismayed because I had no idea what they wanted to talk to me about. Ends up, one of my clients reported being sexually abused and the detectives were there to ask me what I knew about it.

It initially felt a little intimidating, like an interrogation because none of the answers I gave them seemed to be concise enough, and they kept pushing, but I was treading on giving them information I knew I legally and ethically should give them while also respecting my clients confidentiality by not giving them information unrelated/unnecessary to  their investigation.

In the end I think I did both well, but it was definitely an experience. It was my first time ever having to deal with detectives in that manner although I make suspected abuse and neglect calls to child services all the time.

That was a rather stressful way to end the week on top of everything else, but I left work on Friday and ran four miles with one a friend which was a great way to distress while venting. Taking care of yourself physically, mentally and spiritually is a must in the helping professions or you’ll succumb to burnout and compassion fatigue, places I know all too well and try to prevent with every fiber of my being through self-care, which is sometimes easier said then done.