“If you love the work you do then you never have to work a day in your life…” This phrase sounds like a multi generational war cry from parents to their children. Almost like a shrouded warning to pick a career that you enjoy and stick with it. Sadly, for most the reality is not quite so simple. The majority of us will have several careers and positions during our lives and too often, loving what you do becomes secondary to getting paid.
With growing unemployment and fiscal concerns plaguing the United States, I spent this past week considering the term ‘psychic salary,’ and what it means to me. I was first introduced to the term two years ago. At that time it was described to me as the part of the work you undertake that cannot be equated in financial terms - almost like “job satisfaction” if you will. A recent blog I posted received a wonderful comment. The commenter posted she had found her ‘calling’ in counseling and was so pleased that she had done this, despite a much lighter pay check at the end of the month. I could tell from the tone of her posting that this individual was happy with her career choice. There was something there that I relate to; that feeling of satisfaction from a job well done.
If I wanted to make money, I could have chosen from many different careers. Counseling in a sense found me because of my fondness for conversation and connecting with people, as addressed in an earlier blog. For me, work has never really been about the money although economics is a necessary concern for all of us. The ‘psychic salary’ sounded like some sort of mystical entity when I first considered it and to be honest it still does at times. Looking back my first experience with this idea was when I was a paramedic, I awoke before my alarm and was so excited and keen to go to work and be there helping people through long shifts and often difficult times. Money did not buy that feeling, I did not awake excited and alert because I was going to get paid. Currently, working my way through practicum, balancing a paying job and my (non-paying) case load at school has made me consider at a greater depth this career path of counseling that I have chosen. Just reading the blogs and comments that get posted makes me feel like the therapist is a very special person indeed. Arguably for the majority, the fondness of the counseling we undertake everyday is a fulfilling proposition. If necessary, I imagine we would probably show up for work and continue serving our clients without the salary - provided of course the bills, homes, vacations, meals, lifestyle and necessities that those dollars pay for were not such an inextricable part of living. That says a lot about who counselors are at their core and just how grand this ‘psychic salary’ is within our profession.
If the money were to disappear tomorrow would you still show up? I think many of us would, because it is not about the money. It’s about the connection, the ideal of helping people function better, the facilitation and processing of conversation, the re-writes of past traumas, the role playing, the research, the interventions, the planning and the shared experience. This is the magnitude of the impression created by the things we love in the work we do, this philosophical essence that cannot be calibrated or seen or found at the bottom of your monthly statements. It is about so much more than getting paid. This is what ‘psychic salary’ means to me.
Practicum has been enjoyable so far, as has this entire counseling master’s degree. It has allowed me to increase my ‘psychic salary,’ to appreciate this work, to follow my ‘calling’ (just like my commenting peer) and feel fulfilled at the end of the day. It has, if you will, made my mundane paying job tolerable for the moment because one day I will graduate and pass my boards and comprehensive exams and from that day onwards I will never have to work another day in my life, because I love counseling. Maybe this excitement is a product of my naiveté and youth but it’s also a feeling I get inside. A psychic sense that this is something my heart, body and mind want me to do.
So how much did you not get paid this month? Was it worth it?
Christian Billington is a counselor in training. He is passionate about end of life issues, grief and loss, trauma and the development of training to better prepare the emergency services for what they experience in the field.