ACA Blog

DeeAnna Merz Nagel
Sep 10, 2009

How Long is Too Long in the Front Lines?

I recently had a conversation with a colleague who said she just couldn’t find her “calling.” She is a counselor and she knows she was led to help people but she feels she is called to deeply fulfill her vocation- she just doesn’t know what or how. She told me about her jobs (plural). One of her jobs is as a counselor at a juvenile detention center. She said she knows she helps her clients. And then with pause she said, “But the work environment is toxic.” And I knew exactly what she meant. Having worked in various settings over the years- many of which were crisis-oriented settings, I could relate. As I dealt with the concerns and needs of my clients I often had to deal with the negative attitudes of burnt out staff people who had seen way too many lives torn apart by abuse, neglect, poverty, disaster, illness and death.

Upon reflection, and knowing how much I have witnessed in my career, I am thinking that each of us can only take in so much before it begins to taint us and deeply hurt us at a soul level. Maybe we should only be allowing ourselves to work in these difficult environments for a much shorter time than we think we can handle. Maybe only a few years at most, and then it is time to move on and let someone else take the challenge. In that way, we can remain whole and be able to continue to have positive impact on the world around us without our own souls being in the balance. I realize there are exceptional people who may be able to do crisis work for years but I am talking to the rest of us.

I didn’t realize the toll all of those years really had on me until I moved away from that level of intense work. Now I know that even as I was helping, I may not have been able to give anything my all, because it was not in me to give. So now I spend time nurturing and feeding my soul so that I give again the way I did way back in those early years of my career…

What do you think?

DeeAnna Merz-Nagel is a clinical counselor, teacher, workshop presenter, sat on the ACA Cyber Technology Taskforce, and is co-founder of the Online Therapy Institute

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