A client walks in to your room slowly with her shoulders hunched and a cloud of despair hanging over her head. After 50 minutes, the client leaves your room with a hop in her step, profusely thanking you for how helpful the session was.
I’m sure every therapist can imagine at least a few such therapy sessions. How does such a session make the therapist feel? Often times a patient feels better because they have been able to leave behind their distress in the therapy room. It’s the therapist’s job to contain that distress and its natural for the therapist then, to feel drained at the end of the session while the client feels unburdened. It is our compassion that truly helps our clients connect with us and compassion is the best that we can offer.
A lot of well-wishers ask me how I deal with so much distress on a daily basis and I shrug it off saying “Well, I have trained for years for this.” But that’s not entirely true is it? No matter how much we train, is it possible to shield ourselves when clients brings years of trauma with them? It is possible or even desirable to remain detached? Well no, we shouldn’t be detached. We need to feel what they feel, immerse ourselves in their experience and respond to their experience in ways that others haven’t, to help them change their life scripts. But our immersion, often leaves us drowning even as our clients are finding their lighthouses. Compassion fatigue may sometimes mean that we need to just stop for a little while and float. It means that we need to look after ourselves with the same compassion that we do others.
I sometimes need my own therapy. I need to know what my dreams are telling me and what my body language is conveying, just the way I do with my clients. I pay attention to my body and my feelings, and I reflect on why I’m over – reacting to my spouse. I am kind to myself.