5 Things I Am Grateful for As a Mental Health Professional
In a year full of grief, loss, worry, stress, and too many unprecedented circumstances to count, finding things to be grateful for can be a challenge. However, as we know from the gratitude research, practicing gratitude can be a game changer. Practicing gratitude can help to produce dopamine and serotonin; those feel good chemicals. Gratitude has also been shown to change our brain functioning for the better. Gratitude can help to free us from toxic and burdening emotions, and can keep us afloat in times of despair.
So, as a healer, as a helper, what are you grateful for?
I personally reflected on this question recently, as it specifically related to my professional life.
Here are my top 5:
1. I am grateful to be part of a community of helpers.
As Fred Rogers said “Always look for the helpers, because then you’ll know there’s hope.” There are so many helpers out there! You are a helper, I’m a helper, and everyone who reads this is a helper. There are so many of us. I feel inspired each time I facilitate a training or a consultation, as I am reminded by how many lights are out there right now helping support others through darkness and despair.
It is easy to feel isolated and alone in our virtual and socially distanced world. But when you do, try to energetically connect to the hundreds of thousands of other therapists and helpers out there right now, going through the same thing you are. Trying to help, trying to make a difference, trying to ease suffering. Know you are not alone.
2. I am grateful that I have skills, and I can help.
I am so thankful to have needed and helpful skills that can help through these times. This is not my ego talking. This is my wise, adult self who knows when she can be helpful and when she can’t. There are many things I am good at, and many things I am not. But helping people through difficult times is something I am good at. Though I can’t change the reality of suffering right now, I can help people cope and weather the storm. I can and know how to foster resiliency. These are special skills, which I share with you. It is empowering to be a helper and to have skills to help others.
3. I am grateful that human beings are resilient.
I am reminded of how resilient the human spirit is, every day. Whether that’s sparked from client sessions, consultations, watching the news, or walking down my street. As helpers we know that adversity can lead to resiliency. From the research on Post Traumatic Growth, we know that there is a silver lining and a light at the end of the tunnel. Adversity is a part of life, and something we all experience to varying degrees. But when we remain diligent, when we stick with the struggle, when we lean in and do the work, when we keep trying over, and over again…We know that there can be something amazing and beautiful on the other side.
Because we are adaptive beings, our brains and bodies are always working to heal our wounds. And while the wounds and scars are thick this year, healing is possible. Healing is always possible, for it is in our DNA. Therefore, resiliency is also in our DNA. On days that I’m overwhelmed with the pain, the open wounds, the new wounds appearing before my eyes, I continuously come back to this truth: “Human beings are resilient”.
4. I am grateful I have empathy.
As a helper, empathy is your greatest strength and also your Achilles heel. Because of empathy, we can hold space for people, no matter the topic or issue. It is because of empathy that therapy works. It is because of empathy we feel called and motivated to help. It is also because of empathy that we experience burnout, vicarious trauma, and compassion fatigue.
When I am feeling any of those little over-empathized monsters (vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, or burnout) rearing their heads, I remind myself that I’m feeling this way because I have such immense capacity for empathy. Because I feel with people all day, every day. And constant, empathetic engagement takes a toll. It can make one weary.
We have to take time to fill up our compassion cup to keep doing this work. Empathy is a renewable resource, but it has to be renewed to keep being resourceful. Self care, or as I call it intentional self regulation time, is necessary to survive this work. But no matter what your self care looks like, there will be times that you are over-empathized. Just remind yourself that’s part of the process, and part of the experience of being a helper. Renew your resource, and keep shining your superpower.
5. I am grateful for change.
Change is inevitable. It is guaranteed to happen, many times in your lifetime. All things change. Simply consider 2020 and how much has changed within this year. Compare that to where you were 1 year ago. From small to big changes, good and bad ones, there has probably been an immense amount of change in your life in just 1 year’s time.
I know there is immense grief for the many changes, the many losses, that have been endured over this last year. It is easy to get lost in the despair and grief of it all, because it’s just so much. However, do not forget that change goes both ways. Things get worse, and things get better. Things get better, and things get worse. We are the ones who put the value on whether that change is good or bad, but in the cycle of life, it’s all just change. Consistent, undeniable, unrelenting, bet your money on it, change.
I am thankful for change, for I have faith that change will happen and is happening now. It’s always happening. So when I feel overwhelmed, lost, or grief stricken as a helper, I say this mantra to myself to remind myself that change is coming. “Wait for it….wait for it….wait for it….wait for it”. Sometimes it feels like you’re waiting a lifetime. But I promise it will come. Things will/do/are changing. This is one thing I can guarantee.