9 January 2021 15:30
Although we might imagine a mental health professional like a psychologist to be somewhat hardened against the onset of mental health issues themselves, because of the mere nature of the profession, perhaps it should in fact not be shocking to learn that they also frequently struggle with mental health issues.
Several studies have indicated that psychologists are at risk of mental health problems such as depression or anxiety, and with that comes all the same symptoms as anyone else might experience. One of the most common problems psychologists can face - especially those who work with traumatized clients showing signs of psychological distress - can include a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which appears to result from “vicarious” traumatization.
The term ‘vicarious trauma’ describes the phenomenon generally associated with the “cost of caring” for others. That is, the emotional residue one has as a result of working with people who have experienced trauma; hearing their stories and becoming a witness to the pain, fear, and terror that they may have endured. Empathy in validating another’s suffering can make anyone vulnerable and despite rigorous training, a psychologist is not immune. Long term exposure can, for some, cause negative changes in their view of self, others, and the world as a result of repeated empathic engagement with clients’ trauma-related thoughts, memories, and emotions.
Whether it is the mental health profession or indeed, any other, it is always important to take into consideration the factors that can contribute to the deterioration of mental health: such as personal characteristics, interpersonal influences and job-related factors.
Firstly, if you often face difficult clients, try to be aware of your own emotional and physical state. Telltale signs can be a racing heart, surging adrenaline or confusion. Mindfulness and meditation can help psychologists prepare for the anxiety, frustration and anger that a challenging client or workplace might provoke.
Moreover, psychologists can also feel a lot of shame if they are having trouble with clients. A big reason for this is that people often are unwilling to talk about these difficulties, and this can fester into isolation. Just as frequently sharing thoughts and feelings with other mental health professionals, whilst of course respecting any patient confidentiality, can not only help end that isolation but also lead to constructive suggestions about how to deal with future challenges.
Although mental health professionals can often experience mental health problems, this should not discourage them in their work - and seldom does. On the contrary, with the support and openness of fellow experts, they can work on problem solving and personal development in much the same way as any other professional. In this way, they can themselves, often gain new insights into the experiences of their clients and how they are coping with mental health issues.