First, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Megan. I’m a newer counselor and in the beginning stages of building up my practice in the Atlanta area. During my time in graduate school, I was intentional about trying to diversify my experiences while remaining under the protective covering and label of “student”. I have chaplaincy and clinical counseling experience in a hospice, a women’s prison, a crisis center, an adolescent unit at a psych hospital, and an extensive outpatient eating disorder program.
There were certainly aspects unique to each site, and I was able to narrow my interests and get a better idea of where I, as a counselor, wanted to focus come graduation and job search time. There were, however, striking similarities throughout all of my experiences. Day after day, I witnessed universal human experiences of grief, physical and emotional pain, love, loneliness, loss, joy, transformation, renewal, and so much more. Each is an experience for which I’m grateful; each plays a part in the counselor I am becoming today.
In addition to gaining clarity about my own career goals, I realized firsthand that counselors hear many types of narratives; a good number of them are tragic, gruesome, devastating, and infuriating. Not all are of this nature, and there are certainly stories of success and growth and love and wholeness, which make this work worth it at the end of the day. But still. I learned that those horrible painful stories of injustice stick with me; they always have. At each site of my clinical sites, I witnessed clinicians who didn’t flinch when they heard horrific stories. Some would coldly and quickly sum up their client’s situations in passing, and sometimes they might use humor to make light of whatever atrocity they had learned that day. Some rushed to quick diagnosis or labels. This bothers me.
As a newer counselor, I get frustrated with fear- specifically my deepest fear that someday these horrifying narratives might not seem so horrifying anymore. When I hear stories of rape, of child abuse, of severe psychosis, or of religious abuse of any kind (just to name a few), I get sad... and angry. I don't ever want there to be a time when my heart doesn’t ache after hearing a teenage girl’s account of being sold and raped and then sold and raped by her biological father. I do not want narratives of painful religious scars to become commonplace, everyday realities that fail to move me to action, or, at the very least, to compassion.
We know this happens though. You hear the same story 567,382,653 times, and it loses some of it’s luster. I don't want to stop caring, and I don't want stories to stop affecting me. I do not desire to take each painful narrative home with me at night; I’d burn out in 4.2 weeks (give or take a few days). I do, however, want to remember the incredible fragility of humankind right alongside the incredible resilience. I want to genuinely feel emotions when hearing of painful and joyful universal human experiences. I want to stay connected.
The other day, I was driving home after a rough day of devastating stories, and I cried. I cried for the undeserving women and girls with whom I work who go through unimaginable things. I got another taste of the anger at injustice and inherent empathetic spirit that drive my work.
I think if I ever lose that spirit, I'll stop counseling and begin something new.
How do you keep that spirit- that fervor- alive within you?
Is it alive?
Megan Broadhead is a counselor who is entangled in the pursuit of theological and psychological integration and women's issues, for more information go to http://www.missintermission.com