are notoriously light for me. I see clients half
of the day unless I am running a group; then I
have an evening of fun to look forward to with
my friends. This Saturday began as any other,
maybe a few more phone calls than usual. It was
to be a short day with a special treat from my
massage therapist. Writing this article on Keeping
The Vampire Away was to complete my agenda.
So much for the well-planned agenda.
A smile dances
on my face as I pen this very time-appropriate
article. My first client was a young woman who
has grown in leaps and pirouettes since I first
met her. She was then married to a man who was
sexually and verbally abusive and who refused
to come to therapy for help.
The rest of the
day was markedly different. My next session was
with a couple in their thirties. He had a gun
to his head two weeks prior. His wife, denying
the severity of this situation - even as he says
he doesn't trust himself not to do it again, says
why should she have to get rid of the gun?
My next couple
presented in our first interview with the wife's
very psychiatrically-involved profile, O.C.D.,
severe depression, and dissociative disorder.
The physical, sexual, and verbal abuse began in
her infancy - and she finds it impossible to actively
participate in life. Her dysthymic husband struggles
with his inherited low self-esteem and the reality
that his love for her is indeed "not good
I then return
phone calls and hear from a referring psychiatrist
that our mutual client is in crisis. There's a
question as to whether Dyfus should be involved
in the case and I support her taking the appropriate
measures for assuring safety for the children
My massage is
out of this world! I am definitely in my own altered
state of consciousness as my body accepts the
nurturing and my mind floats in a warm cocoon.
We hug and part as I reach for my ringing phone.
The next forty
minutes are spent reassuring a frightened woman
and her family who had just recognized that an
evil part of her "takes over" her personality
and is threatening her life. At the end of this
conversation, I decide to set this article aside
for completion at another less stressful time!
The NIH forum
on Mind-Body Interactions and Disease Symposium
in Bethesda, Md. cited studies showing the effects
of stress and depression on physical health and
resistance to disease - and the benefits of measures
like group therapy and counseling. (We suggest
that for our clients all the time.) Susan J. Blumenthal,
a physician and co-chair of this symposium, discussed
the benefits of these "low cost psycho-social
interventions in treating many patients."
a psychiatrist at the University of California,
discussed the now well-known study that documented
that patients with advanced breast cancer, who
participated in a weekly support group and therapy
group, lived twice as long as those who did not.
(This is certainly no surprise to those in our
How is it that
we who know compelling information which consistently
affirms the value of human support systems, are
so lax in assuring that for ourselves?! Why do
we who counsel others, hour after hour, trauma
after trauma, remain essentially isolated in our
enormously responsible and challenging roles?
While agencies do provide connection through staff
meetings and supervision, not all private practice
clinicians choose to avail themselves of such
valuable interaction and validation. It's not
readily available, and the idea of creating such
vehicles for ourselves often feels like another
task which takes time and energy.
Many of us are
idealists who enter the field with powerful intentions
- we are going to make a difference. For those
of us who do not dissociate, our idealism is sorely
shattered or, we hang on by a thread after hearing,
seeing, and feeling the results of man's inhumanity
to man/woman/child! Our once profound belief in
a core "good" gets rocked and socked
and we are face to face with raw pain or that
which has been translated into raw, ugly, venomous
rage. We sit in our chairs before these hurting
people seeking to create a context of hope for
our clients - and for ourselves, as well.
McCann and Pearlman,
authors of Vicarious Traumatization: The Emotional
Cost Of Working With Survivors in Treating
Abuse Today state, "Long-term work with
survivors can create a sense of cynicism or despair
in helpers as they are faced with the darkest
aspect of humanity and the horror of senseless
violence." They go on to say that clinicians
are at risk for alteration to their own cognitive
schema and memory - the very focus of our treatment
for trauma survivors. Our work may leave us
vulnerable to damage to our own beliefs
about trust, safety, power, esteem.
Many of us are
not only idealists, we are perfectionists as well,
and Victor Malatesta, Ph. D. at the Institute
of Pennsylvania Hospital says, "rightly so,
since (we) hold someone else's life in (our) hands."
This author comments, it's vital to know
our own limitations, too!
If, indeed, it
is our commitment to the excellence of our craft,
and a genuine regard with which we hold our clients,
it is imperative that we minister to our own mental,
physical and spiritual health. Our lives need
to be balanced with fun and nurturing, as well
as continued learning and professional growth.
We need to take note from our colleagues who are
personally thriving and who are able to maintain
their enthusiasm for their work.
So, how do
I cope? Let me count
the ways I fight off that vampire who can, indeed,
suck the energy and spirit from our lives...
- I use the phone for human
connection - i.e., my friend who says "I
love you" and commiserates when I have
a rare "no show," or a colleague
who shares my love for silly and outrageous
- An early morning ski on my
Nordic (actually increases my energy for the
long hours ahead)
- Having dates scheduled such
as interesting trainings or conferences, a
woman's day out, a rare disco night
- A busman's holiday - lunch
with a colleague to discuss cases
- Supervision to keep my diagnostic
and therapy skills honed and challenged by
a respected peer
- Massage for some self-centered
- A piece of stirring music
- A peek into my library for
a brief scan of some book which has been beckoning
me Affiliations with such professionally supportive
groups such as the American Association
of Marriage and Family Therapists or
National Association of Social Workers.
- Keeping my reading current
- Deep breathing, self-hypnosis
- Bubble baths (but then I
have to wash the tub)
- Aromas, such as flowers,
cologne, baking, cup of herbal tea
- Re-read the articles on "Time"
in the January/February 1995 Family Therapy
Networker and create a new life-affirming
- E.M.D.R., T.F.T., Tapas...
We can choose
one from column A and two from column B; and,
if we are to remain true to our committed mission
as therapists, we need to listen to our own inner
music and pay it homage.
The mind and the
body are simultaneously stimulated and our life's
blood is at stake. Self-love/respect is the antidote
to the vampire's fangs. Let him seek his kill
elsewhere. We have important work to do!
Now, for that
warm, delicious bubble bath! Did I hear the phone?
Anyone for T.F.T.?
by The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic