It is a really strange concept for me to think there is such a thing as being too invested or caring too much. In my life there has always been an internal need to give of myself to those around me. This is not to say that it has always been a rosy jaunt through a garden of appreciation. I have often given to people who could not care less or were blatantly ungrateful. There were also those who just came to expect it. This has led me at times to feel saddened, disappointed, angry or just plain foolish.
In my personal life I have felt these feelings because we are taught to expect to be cared for back. We often seek some sort of appreciation or acknowledgement from those in our lives who we share the best we have to give. As I have learned from my experiences it does no good to do kind acts and expect anything in return. It actually takes away from the deed itself. I cannot say I have perfected this and do not feel bad when others stomp on my best efforts. However, I have been able to feel bad, breathe deep and press on for the most part. There are slights which hurt more than others but the focus is on doing what is right. I can get past it because I know I am staying true to my nature. I may be called naïve or “too nice” (and I have been) but I am at peace with that.
When the time came to see clients I was honestly most nervous about how I would be able to care for my clients without caring “too much.” It seemed like a seriously tall order. When there is a client who is looking to me as their only support, how do I keep them from becoming too dependent? For many clients we are the safe space where they can reveal their true self no matter how shameful.
We can know the Code of Ethics forward and backwards but there is always that moment when a client can throw you off balance. The very nature of our work asks us to give and support. You can find yourself longing to extend yourself to them as a support beyond the session. There are many ethical ways to do so.
However, as clinicians we must be aware of when we may be crossing a line. We are bound to standards of ethical and legal guidelines which are there for a reason. These rules allow us to see the difference between being effective and becoming too enmeshed.
At the end of the day we are all human and may need guidance. This may come in the form of supervision from a more experienced peer or colleague. Seeking out these types of collaborations is crucial to make sure we are maintaining healthy relationships with our clients. It allows us to take a look at our cases from another perspective.
I try to keep in mind that I must give my best to every client and help them to feel supported. I would also like to guide them in finding the strength they need to go on without me. If I overstep with my support I rob them of the chance to grow and heal on their own.
My former supervisor and friend told me many times “We are in one of the only professions where we hope for our clients to no longer need us.” Till that time comes for each of my clients I will have to perfect my skills at balancing my support between enough and “too much.”
Nicole Michaud is a Counselor in training in Central Connecticut. She is also the voice behind the cooking Blog MyLoveForCooking.com