Wonderful Blog Post on Compassion Fatigue

By Caitlin Kelly Have you reached your limit? Some people I know — usually smart, curious, globally engaged — are shutting off the news, signing off of social media. They’re exhausted and overwhelmed. They just can’t listen to one more killing, whether of an unarmed black American man, or a police officer, (armed but […]

via Is compassion a limited resource? — Broadside

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Diagnoses, Therapy, and the Person That Sits in Front of You

I have a client right now who reminds me of a lot of the other clients that I have had.  He is one of many with a severe trauma and abuse history.  After seeing countless kids, teens, and adults with similar backgrounds, you almost start to think that this sort of life must be normal.  But you have to remind yourself that it is anything but.  I especially feel for some of my younger clients who have had such an unfair start in life.  As clinicians, we are quick to put labels and diagnoses on a problem when half the time, clients’ experiences with these things and current symptoms have served a purpose.  If holding onto depression,  anxiety, PTSD, or some sort of attachment problem serves a purpose (which they all do), we have to be careful not to pull that immediately away.

What’s always troubled me more than a “typical” Axis I disorder is any of the personality traits/disorders you get on Axis II.  It bothers me that we already start putting down things like “Borderline Traits” in a teen’s medical chart.  Who knows how long some of that can follow someone? Most teenagers are still figuring out who they are and their place in the world, many clients have the added burden of just trying to make it through each day given the experiences they have been through.

I don’t think it inaccurate to describe what you see but the trouble with diagnoses is once it’s written in a client’s chart, it starts to form your impression of someone before you’ve even met them.  It becomes hard NOT to see them through that lens.  And I don’t like that.  It makes us as clinicians anything but impartial observers to the clinical picture we see.  We might then behave in ways that serve to mold and reinforce the very same behaviors we are pathologizing, albeit unwittingly.

I am not sure of any particular miraculous way to fix this, I just find it unfair to be imposing so many labels and disorders on clients so young.  Even my first practicum in the Master’s program, that was on a dual diagnosis inpatient unit (substance abuse and mental health), I remember hearing some of their stories and thinking “It’s amazing that they’re even still standing here today.  The fact that they even made it another day and are here in this moment is remarkable.”  I guess what I’m saying is it’s also important to remember a client’s strengths and not be too quick to see them as the sum of their history and “problems.”  Given some of the stories I have heard over the years, I am not so sure I would have done any better myself.  Sometimes, it’s amazing that that person got out of bed and made it to your office that day.  Let alone the fact that they were willing to share a little bit of their world with you.  I don’t ever want to forget that or take for granted the special gift that that is.  Someone is trusting me with one of the most precious parts of themselves and I am privileged enough to be able to hear it.

What a Difference a Day Can Make

“The mind is everything; What you think you become.” -Buddha

Such a true statement.  Happy mind = happy life.  It really is that simple.

Be present.  Be a friend.  When you’re sad, allow yourself to be sad.  When you’re happy, be happy.  When you’re joyful, well I sure as heck hope you share that joy! Love one another.  What you put out you get back to you tenfold.

“Above all things have intense and unfailing love for one another.  For love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8

Happiness

In today’s society, many of us are “busy” rushing from one thing to the next.  When do we ever take time to smell the roses? We have instant access to a wealth of information, good or bad.  But is this healthy?

A current trend in psychotherapy is towards an Eastern/Buddhist approach.  We call it mindfulness.  It is as simple (and as complicated) as fully being in the present moment, no matter how difficult.  When you are driving, drive.  When you are with someone, be with them.  When you are waiting at the doctor’s office, be there and not on your cellphone.  One of the exercises we like to do with the teens is have them eat a piece of Dove chocolate then tell us one thing they notice about the experience.  Things like, it tastes delicious, the way it melts in my mouth, the smoothness of it, etc…

In American society we have glorified the notion of “busy.”  But what if busy meant living a full life? Not one on the internet, texting, or making sure you post every minute on the latest and greatest social network.  Sure, these things have their perks and can be great business tools but balance is necessary.

I see so many clients who seem to have lost their way.  And a big part of this is today’s society.  We are “connecting” with one another instantly.  While part of that is wonderful, I absolutely love getting to connect with other photographers, artists, etc… from all over the globe on Instagram, the flip side is we are missing the moment.  Be present.

We aren’t promised tomorrow today.  Live.  Enjoy the present moment for the gift it is.  You’ll be amazed what can happen when you do.

 

An Opportunity for Reflection

So, like many of you, Robin Williams’ tragic death took me by surprise.  I never expected to feel compelled to write a blog post but my reaction to his heartbreaking passing took me by surprise.  Robin Williams was/is a truly gifted and beautiful soul who brought light and laughter to all those around him.  I pray that he and his loved ones are able to find some measure of comfort in the public outpouring of compassion in response to his death.

That being said, as an (almost) psychologist, I have seen numerous posts on social media that say “Shame on you.”  Really? Shame on Robin Williams? Who was in so much incredible pain that he saw death as the only option? Why be SO quick to judge?  What a wonderful opportunity to practice kindness and compassion.

Just because suicide is difficult to talk about does not mean it isn’t happening.  Mental illness is like any other illness.  Would you find it appropriate to write “Shame on you” on a cancer patient’s Facebook wall? I doubt it.  Instead of judging someone who already took their life maybe you should examine why your first response is to BLAME the victim.

That’s right.  I said VICTIM.  A person who was suffering from such overwhelming pain that they unfortunately chose death as the means to an end.  We are all HUMAN.  We all have emotions.  In this range of emotions, we all experience: joy, sadness, despair, pain, laughter, happiness, sorrow, grief, impulsivity, worry, impatience, empathy, etc…

We are all beautifully and wonderfully flawed.  It’s part of the human condition.  But don’t forget that KINDNESS MATTERS.  Always.

The next time you see someone who is struggling, do not be so quick to judge. One kind word or five minutes of your time might change that entire person’s day… Or even life.