Help for the Helping Professional

I grew up in a family where both my parents helped others. My father was one of the first trained pediatric surgeons in the country and practiced here in Syracuse in the late 1950's to early 1960's. Later, after being chief of pediatrics and dean of the medical school at Yale University, he became chief of staff of Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut. My mother volunteered for several organizations whose mission was to serve others and help people who where in need. I learned just how rewarding the helping profesions can be through conversations they would have with me, actions they would take, and from observing their behavior on a daily basis. It says a great deal about someone that they would make helping others a part of their life's work and existence.

Unfortunately, this very noble calling also has a shadow side. This side is commonly referred to as compassion fatigue, vicarious traumatization, or simply professional burnout. It can take alot out of a person who's job it is to be there for others on a daily basis. People in the helping professions are more susceptible to psychological and emotional distress because they come into contact with other people's pain, discomfort, and distress. In a sense, we become a repository for our patients feelings during difficult times. Since many helping professionals have a high tolerance for pain and stress, they are not always aware of the impact that their daily work has on them.

Another occupational hazard for people in the helping professions is that many struggle to reach out for help. The reasons for this are varied. In some cases, this may reflect a person's personality dynamics which has lost sight of their own need for self-care. Sometimes not reaching out reflects an unwritten code in a profession that "we can handle anything" and that asking for help can be viewed as a weakness. And for other people in the helping professions, because they may be seen as " public figures" in a sense, there is a fear that others will find out that they are struggling and that this might diminish their professional credibility or productivity. These examples are humble reminders that even though helping professionals are gifted and talented people in helping others, we are no different than the people we help in that we are still only human and are equally vulnerable to life stress and difficulties.

Throughout my career, I have had the pleasure of working with so many different kinds of people within the helping professions. Whether you work in law enforcement, fire and rescue services, education, mental health, or in the medical community you are at a higher risk for developing depression, anxiety disorders, addiction problems, and can suffer with relationship problems because of the work you do.

My experience over the years has only reinforced my belief that helpers have a tremendous need to to talk about the kinds of things they do and witness everyday. Not talking about these experiences can easily build up difficult emotions internally and can cause significant problems in one's life. If you are feeling burned out, anxious, depressed, numb, overwhelmed, or have lost your desire to be helpful, please feel free to give me a call and give us a chance to talk.