No one enters the mental health field expecting it to be easy. It is often difficult work, and just as often, tremendously rewarding. Being aware of the most significant challenges can help you take steps to avoid negative effects, both professionally and personally.
Common challenges of being a therapist include:
- Caring for your own mental health. It is all too easy to neglect your own mental health needs when your career is dedicated to helping clients realize positive outcomes. But all the same, we deal with anxiety, depression, and other issues. This is especially true when your clients are delving into experiences of exploitation and/or victimization. The cruelty and violence they are working through can cause you to experience symptoms of trauma yourself. Providing for your own self-care and mental health is paramount.
- Setting aside judgment. We’re human. Humanity is the core of the therapeutic relationship. And because we are, it can be challenging to put aside thoughts, beliefs, stances, and values. This is why it is important to remain culturally sensitive, embrace diversity, and engage in ongoing training to keep us aware of our blind spots. Therapy must be a judgment-free zone; something we as professionals must remind ourselves of continuously.
- Engaging reluctant clients. They may be shy. Embarrassed. Ashamed. Guilty. Pushed into counseling. Whatever the reason behind the reluctance, it can be difficult to establish an open, honest, and, ultimately, successful relationship.
- Maintaining boundaries. If a client is weeping inconsolably, will you reach out and hug him or her? If you need to reschedule an appointment or ask a quick question, will you send a text? Both present risk management concerns -- another one of the challenges of being a therapist. It is important to consult your professional ethical code, your organization’s policies and procedures, and stay current with training.
- Burnout. Burnout affects many. The everyday grind of dealing with client distress combined with funder requirements, documentation, and heavy caseloads can take a toll and lead to developing a “thick skin” -- the worst outcome if we want to stay empathically connected to our clients. Key here are two things: self-care and continuing to grow as professionals. The number one reason for burnout is our perception that we have become stagnant. We need to grow to avoid burnout.
Awareness is a critical step in avoiding fallout around these challenges -- and preventing them from derailing the therapeutic relationship. Remember the good work you do for your clients!