Thursday, October 8, 2009

Letting Go and Being Present

I have wondered on many occasions if I'm in the wrong career.  My first job after graduating from college four years ago was in a very toxic work environment.  After working there six months I concluded that I should've done something different with my life and decided to go back to school.  I applied and was accepted to the doctoral program in Biological and Developmental Psychology at Virginia Tech but ultimately decided not to go.  (It would take me forever to explain the reasons I chose not to go and it's really not relevant to the point I'm trying to make anyway).  I stayed in this toxic work environment for a total of three years in order to gain experience and to get licensed as an independent practitioner.

About a year and a half ago I started a new job .  When I started this job I was very excited -- surely I would discover that I'm in the right career field and that this is what I'm supposed to be doing with my life.  After all, THIS was my dream job -- to be an outpatient mental health therapist.  This is what I'd dreamed of doing since I was 15. 

Unfortunately, I just didn't like it as much as I thought I would.  I found myself hoping that patients wouldn't show up and counting the hours until I could go home.  I couldn't understand why I wasn't enjoying my work.  I wanted to help people -- what was the problem?

Recently I've had a sort of epiphany.  I realize that I've been too focused on helping people - I put a lot of pressure on myself and feel bad if my patients don't make progress.  I worry so much about whether I'm being helpful that it becomes unpleasant for me and I just want it to be over.  I find myself not liking the patients who have problems I'm not adept at treating.  The patients I like best are those with problems I have solutions for.   

A couple of weeks ago I decided to try something different.  Instead of worrying about how to help my patients I focused on just being present with them.  The experience has been a positive one.  I've found that the hours go by quickly and that I enjoy listening to what my patients have to say.  I've also found that I'm often able to respond spontaneously with appropriate feedback.  I'm amazed that I actually know what to do and what to say without having to plan it out.  I think over time I might even learn to trust that I have what it takes to be helpful and that I don't have to try so hard.

I wanted to share this because I think the "solution" to my problem is probably the solution to a lot of other problems as well.  For anyone who finds themselves not enjoying something as much as they thought they would I think the answer is this: stop thinking about it and just be present. 


  1. Important insight you had. "Helping mind" as I like to call it, is almost always a heap of trouble. It takes you out of seeing someone as a whole and capable person, and into a top-down role where you are "an expert" about someone else's life. How can anyone be an expert of someone else's life?

  2. I had a very similar experience. I found myself LISTENING TOO CLOSELY, if that makes any sense. I actually couldn't concentrate on what they were saying, because I was TRYING to concentrate so hard.

    I wanted to help soooo badly, that I tried to listen to every single word, hear every inflection... all while attempting to "figure out how to help." Wow, was this a huge mistake~ I got so wrapped up in trying to fix, I lost track of the bigger picture, which was helping them see the solution for themselves. I like helping them teach themselves... so they don't "need to need me."

    I also went through this "looking at my watch" period, not liking my work. This is going to happen from time to time, but PASSION is always the answer. Passion answers almost everything. (hmm.. maybe I'll write about Mr. Passion~ thx).

    Hope you're loving what you're doing more now.


  3. Simply being present is such a gift. It's a gift of respect and affirmation.

  4. I work with women with eating disorders. I used to feel so frustrated that I was unable to get through to some. But then I too had an epiphany. All of the struggles in my life, while terrible at the time, ultimately left me a stronger and deeper person. Why did I want to remove this opportunity for growth for these women? All I could do was be there, offer support and encouragement and tools for them in their recovery. But I couldn't "fix them" or do the needed work for them. That wasn't ultimately up to me. Being present with your clients is a wonderful gift, one that is very healing in it's own right.


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