Mental health practitioners pay a price for doing their job. The quality of their own mental health can suffer for it — some are just one more abuse story from having a mental breakdown of their own — and they don’t even know it’s happening.
They hear everything. Of course, they do. It’s their job to listen. Stories of violent rapes, child molestation and physical abuse are frequently shared inside counsellors’ rooms every day. To anyone on the outside, the information they hear would be horrific. Seasoned or not, how does any well-balanced counsellor keep sane after listening to such confronting stories day after day? How would they keep from normalising such horrors? How can they keep a foot in their patient’s corrupted world without corrupting their private lives in the process?
Tony Brindell is a counsellor who has heard more than his fair share of horror stories. These days, he barely bats an eyelid when a new patient reveals to him that she was molested at the age of five and then made to be her drunken mother’s boyfriend’s sex slave until her mid-teens. It’s not surprising that she can’t hold down a job and dates one abusive man after another. If it were me hearing what she has gone through, I’d pretend to understand and then proceed to vomit. It’d be easy for someone like Tony to become comfortable hearing these violent narratives and then feel blase about them. Everyday life might even appear somewhat dull by comparison.
And what about those people who bring him the lesser, more domestic-level complaints?
“My husband won’t take the trash out! He’s driving me crazy!”
“She spends more time with her phone than she does with me!”
I imagine Tony thinking to himself: “Can’t you bring me anything decent to talk about?”
Keeping patient issues fair and reasonable wouldn’t come automatically or easily. It’d be a delicate job to remain balanced, focused, impartial, objectively empathic, professionally distant, and sane, at the same time. And what about a counsellor’s sanity? If there’s a limit to how much a counsellor can bear, when would someone like Tony know he was reaching the end of it and losing it to the job?
According to Tony, it can’t happen. It’s an impossible occurrence because counsellors counsel counsellors all the time. Every six months or so, he’s assessed by a professional peer. It’s a way to measure his mental health and bring him back from his patient’s bizarre stories. He’s not the only one. All counsellors must do it. It’s done to make sure that the quality of care provided by all counsellors is of the highest possible standard. When a problem is identified, it’s addressed and treated immediately. Counsellors helping counsellors keep everyone in their industry safe and sane. It makes sense to do this.
But then one of Tony’s patients asks the most interesting questions during a one-on-one session.
“When was the last time you found an insane counsellor, Tony?”
Tony looked puzzled. This question had never been asked before. There wasn’t a prescribed answer that came to mind. He was about to reply when the patient spoke again.
“What about your colleagues? How many of them found counsellors to be mentally unfit and unable to continue their work?”
“I can’t say. It’s rare. We’re careful about the duty of—”
“If it’s so rare, surely you’d remember the details of the last one, right? I don’t need to know a name. Let’s go with when. When was the last time when one of your friends found an insane counsellor and had to stop them from working?”
“I… I really don’t remember. I’d have to check and see if—”
“Don’t bother. I looked it up. It’s never. None of you has ever done that. You’re all mentally fit and capable to do your work. Not one of you has forced another to resign because someone’s mental health was found to be substandard. By some miracle of God, every single one of you is perfect and healthy. It’s either that or you no longer know what’s poor or unhealthy.”
Tony tilted his head and raised an eyebrow.
“Don’t look at me like that Tony. None of you knows which reality is right anymore. You’ve heard so many abuse stories that you don’t even recognise that you’re the one being abused. You get metaphorically punched in the head several times a day and then ask another counsellor to check you out every six months so they can tell you that you’re fine. That’s okay because he suffers from daily head blows too. You counsel him and tell him he’s fine too. You both live with your bruises and then go back to work as if nothing is wrong. You sit in that chair and get punched but no longer feel the hits. You don’t know what’s normal anymore. You’ve got to be nuts!”
It’s true — the normal part anyway.
Ask ten sane people what the definition of normal is and you’ll get varied answers. What offends one person won’t be offensive to the next. Happiness, love, ambition, sex, sadness, unacceptable behaviour — each is different. When patients talk to their counsellors about their problems, it’s expected that the expertise and guidance they get in return will come from a grounded place. To them, the counsellor is normal. He’s supposed to be an anchored boat and they are meant to be waiting for a lifeline — but that’s foolish thinking. Counsellors are just as susceptible to mental breakdowns as anyone else. Their boats can come adrift at any time. Lifelines become dangerous because if two boats are tethered and one of them sinks, they both go down together.
Who counsels the counsellor?
A misguided soul.
Five women’s bodies are discovered after the nights of thunderstorms. Their spouses are suspected of the crimes, but it becomes clear that someone else is responsible. There’s no blood and few clues. A storm photographer specialising in taking lightning pictures may be the only witness.
Free For a Limited Time