September 11, 2011

How To Let Your Profession Define You

I have this wonderful topic to write about, but as I sit to write it, I don't know where to start. It is an experience that I am having right now and it stems way back to years and years ago. Do I start back then? Do I start in the present? Do I just jump around to whatever comes up? I honestly don't know the answer.

I think I will start with why the title of this post came to me. I realized after coming back from vacation that this is what has happened to me. My identity is wrapped up around my role as a social worker/ counsellor, psychotherapist so much that I don't know what happens when I take that away from me. I got a glimpse of what it is like to not be wrapped up in it for about 6 days while on vacation and I really liked it. It put me in a difficult place, to be honest. When I got back, I dreaded taking my role up again. I didn't have to worry. I had no part in it, as my role took ME up.

I think I need to stay a bit in the abstract now as I begin this. I'm not sure if I will publish all of my words on this subject, but I'll try to. There are a couple things that caught my eye that helped me take the different path that I am now taking and I would like to point those out. It really started last year with a comment on my About Me page.
My 'take' on your asocialness (and perhaps I say this because I have a similar take) is that we are searching for intimacy from our clients that for one reason or another (attachment issues?) we are unable to get from those around us. 
That got me thinking. At first I was a bit taken aback and then a bit angry. Not me, I said! I'm past those issues! I've done a lot of work on myself. Then I began to question.

After that, it snuck up again. It was one of those things I would have only realized and would hit me after I have seen it before. You know, like when you hear a word for the first time and then you hear that word three more times that week. This time, it was on the wonderful blog Monkeytraps from this post:

In talking about hiding from intimacy and connection, fritzfreud writes:
Eventually, when I had to leave the cave to make a living, I looked around for some way to do so which would allow me to stay mostly in hiding.
I became a therapist.
Looking back on that choice now, I see two things that made therapy appealing.  The first was knowledge.  I loved the idea of becoming a magus, a magician of the mind, possessor of arcane understanding and skills that would enable me to transmute (and so rise above) the common run of human misery.     
The second was invulnerability.  Doing therapy seemed a terrific way to get really close to people without having to risk criticism or rejection or abandonment.  To make contact without making contact, so to speak.
Guess what?
It worked.
This one really hit me. Hard. Yet still, I avoided making changes. I avoided facing the fear. The shame.

And then I had to. I got back from vacation and I was getting anxious about my work and how it consumed me. And then I looked at my life, in the present and the past. And so then I made some changes. I think to end this post, I will let you know some of the changes I've made and then maybe I'll talk about them more, in this post and later.

  • I've deleted all of the therapy, psychology and social work links from my computer. 
  • I no longer follow any psychology/social work/therapy blogs.
  • I've created a new Twitter account that includes no therapy, psychology or social work.
  • I've stopped reading books related to psychology, therapy or social work at home. 
  • I've started doing, or at least looking for, activities that I enjoy doing that are unrelated to work.
  • I'm trying to see myself, when at work, as good enough. At home, too, but with a different slant.
  • I'm trying to find my place in a more wholistic way. It's not easy.

I looked back and found that from the age of 14, I've been reading self help books. That led into psychology books. That led into working in the helping profession. That led into social work. BSW, MSW, various trainings. That led into my present counselling/therapy job. I really thought I was doing this because I was meant to. All my paths led here and it was a GOOD thing. Now I'm not so sure. Yes, the paths led me here, but is it the best, or even a good, place to be for me? It seems to point to my being here with a purpose of trying to understand my life. Yes, that's important on some level, but is it a way to live your life? There's this quote that I've hung onto. "You're born, you deconstruct your life and then you die. Haha, but no thanks. It's a difficult reality to face that I'm facing this now. Especially since I thought I had already faced it!

So now I look back think about what I've missed. What could I have been? What were other directions? What did I not allow myself to see with my focus so intent on being where I am today?

I'm not leaving social work. I am very good at what I do and I still enjoy it (sometimes for the wrong reasons) and want to continue. I'm trying to make the right changes so that I can exist as ME, not as a psychology/therapy/counselling/social work obsessed person.

I don't know where this is leading. I really don't. And I'm trying to be okay with that. Success is limited with that, to be sure!



Carolyn said...

Sounds like you are trying to find some balance in your life so that you have some life outside of work. This is a good thing and will actually make you better at your work. A win/win situation.

Empathizer said...

Thank you for this post. I can certainly relate... as an MSW student who has spent years trying to increase my self-awareness and vulnerability through various means, one of the main reasons being a social worker is so attractive to me is exactly what you said... It is so much harder for me to feel authentic connections in my day-to-day life with those I love than it is in situations where there is a power differential (in either direction). I do not play well with my peers, I suppose, and while I try to improve that aspect of myself, I also recognize that is an asset in some ways, as well. Thank you for sharing your journey with us...

Anonymous said...

I would really just like to thank you for this post. I came across it completely by accident, but at a time where I am really struggling with a lot of these same realizations. And it is very difficult to admit to myself. It is nice to not feel alone in this, and I commend you for examining yourself- it would be a lot harder to just keep going and get lost in the process...while years go by not fostering your own personal life.

SEH said...

Hi, I've read a few of your posts and want to tell you I'm enjoying your honesty and openness. There is much in this profession that will test our boundaries and our personal resolve and sanity. I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to see someone take steps toward a better life/work balance (notice I put life FIRST) when I so often hear from many who push and push to put work first. This is unhealthy for anyone, but especially for a helping professional. Maybe those are the people who do not connect as deeply or intimately to the profession and to other people as we do? It is so easy to become entangled, at least from my perspective. I have to remind myself every day that I need to put myself and my own life first; otherwise I'm no good to anyone - not those I help or even myself. When one doesn't have a firm sense of self and a personally healthy foundation, is it really "helping," after all? Anyway, take care of YOU :-)

Nicole said...

Wow. Reading this blog is my equivalent of that song 'Killing Me Softly' (sorry, you did mention somewhere that you hate music) :p. (I've just stumbled onto it today, after some events in my workplace bled into yet another work-related existential crisis (I have them at least once a year) prompted me - in the everything-is-connected way that my brain functions - to search for 'social work blogs'.) Brackets within brackets! Sorry, I'm rambling in the giddiness of discovery...

So far, it's as if you've plucked my internal battles, my life/career story (which remain very much intertwined, despite all my beautifully constructed boundaries and attempts to keep them separate) and splashed it across this page.

I will explain myself/tell my story more eloquently, another day. For now, I want to say thank you, thank you. Keep writing.

Post a Comment