I had the strangest email encounter the other day; in an attempt to find a therapist for my husband, I have emailed several counselors in my area. Some got back, others didn’t. Some were open to answer my questions regarding their theoretical orientation and view of therapy, while others seemed offended that I asked for such information. Still, one person seemed genuinely open and willing to help; she answered my questions and encouraged me to ask more…so I did. I disclosed to her that I am a counselor in training and that some of my questions are fueled by past experiences with other therapists, theories that didn’t work, etc. Little did I know that my disclosure was about to bring forth a very interesting email, filled with questions of my intentions for the future, brief negative experiences on her part, and finally the disclosure that “nobody told me that I will be the emotional trashcan of others”.
I wanted to take this statement with a grain of salt as I imagine this person is well-intentioned, yet forgets that the reason why I originally contacted her was to secure her services as a therapist. Now, how can I possibly send my husband to see a therapist who seems to be so burnt out and who feels the way that she does? Should I commend her honesty and reward it or should I take this as an indication of the quality of therapy that she is willing to provide? Ironically, my husband decided to give her a chance which leads me to think that I may be too critical. Am I?
You know, I sometimes feel like an idealist; if I close my eyes and say out loud “counselor” I get the image of an unknown woman, sitting on a chair, smiling, emanating empathy and genuine positive regard. I see someone who is there because she cares, because she is interested, because she wants to help. Never did I picture an emotional dumpster...and you know, I do get the metaphor and I know what it stands for, but it just sounds so painful; I personally could not use it even as a joke.
But then again, I have ran across therapists that were burnt out, hated being a counselor and looked at it as a job rather than a career; some of these counselors were also calling their clients stupid, and other not-so-nice names.
I wonder, if one doesn’t like it, why stick to it? Isn’t the potential for harm greater when you are burnt out and uninterested? Don’t we truly have a choice? I get it, nobody told you prior to getting into your program that you will be listening to other people’s pain, frustrations, or just day to day stress; I am not even going to assume that you should have known what counseling is prior to getting into the program, but after a few semesters in school shouldn’t you have noticed it? Why continue with something you simply can’t stand? Why?
Diana C. Pitaru is a counselor-in-training, and a student at Walden University. Her theoretical interests are in Gestalt, Art, and Narrative therapy while focusing on multicultural issues and eating disorders.