Conflicted

Most of you who follow this blog know what I do for a living, but some of you who are new around these parts may not. I’m a counselor at a private psychiatric hospital. “Private” being the key word. What private means in the psyc world is that you either have to have money, good insurance, or be committed involuntarily by a doctor to come in. This has always bugged me a little bit. Actually a lot a bit. 

The thing is, I got into this profession because I enjoy the work and I like to help people. However, when you work at a private hospital, it also becomes a business. People become money. I don’t see people that way but the “company” I work for does, so I’m forced into that predicament. 

There are public and state funded psychiatric facilities but they are SO scarce since Katrina down here in New Orleans. If you’re lucky enough to find a place that gives free counseling or does a detox for drugs/alcohol, you’re going to be on a long waiting list to get in. Some people don’t have a long time to wait. Mental health is not something that can be put on the back burner for very long.

Today I had a person come in who wanted to detox from heroin. Now I have to admit that I’ve seen a fair number of people who come in to detox only to come back the next week looking for detox again. And it’s often paid for by Medicare (which means my tax dollars) and that sort of annoys me. But occasionally you get a person who comes in that honestly wants the help. That’s how my person was tonight. The person had been using heroin for the last 5 or so years and had been using IV for the last year. Their life had gotten to the point where it wasn’t worth much anymore, so they came in to detox. And I can tell that person honestly wanted the help…was crying for it. But we wouldn’t admit them because they didn’t have any money. That’s just sad to me and it goes against what I feel is right as a counselor, as a human. But once again, I work for a business. Since heroin is not usually a lethal detox (though it is extremely ugly), we’re not mandated to keep someone who can’t pay.

I love my job, I honestly do. It’s fascinating to me and it feels so good when you can make a difference. I love the people I work with, the clients I meet, but I really dislike the business aspect of it and I imagine that most counselors who work in a private hospital do as well. 

My main passion is working with children and adolescents. That’s why I got into this field. I’m just counting down the days until I get my licensure and can start seeing kids in my own private practice. And it’s sooner than I thought! I recently learned that as soon as pass the NCE (National Counselor Exam) which I plan on taking over the summer, I can start seeing clients on my own as long as I’m being supervised. Then I have to be supervised for 2 years before I can see them on my own without being supervised. So it looks like I may move closer to my goals this summer and get back to working with just kids and adolescents. I love working with adults. I didn’t think I would, but I do. But I enjoy working with kids even more.

Anyways, I just had to vent a bit about my frustrations. I feel better now…thanks for listening 🙂

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14 Responses

  1. I’m sorry you’re not in your dream job right now, but good news that it’s closer than you think! I had no idea there were so many regulations about being a counselor, though I suppose it makes sense.

  2. That sounds so frustrating! I know that here in the UK we delight in criticising our healthcare system, but so often we forget that we can see a doctor without having to pay for it, go to hospital for surgery if necessary. In the grand scheme of things two years isn’t horribly long though, hang in there! With the dedication you have to this job and the focus you have on where you want it to go, I can just imagine you in a couple of years’ time with a drop in centre all of your own, funded by charitable donations from well meaning people, helping any kid who walks through the door. Your consulting room will be lined with books 🙂

  3. The business side of it really does sound frustrating. But hang in there, Chris! Before you know it you’ll be doing what you truly love.

  4. I think it’s wonderful that you feel this way Chris. I’m sure there are plenty of counselors out there who are also in it for the business aspect, which, like you, I find very wrong, ESPECIALLY in your line of work. People need help, not turned away. I think it’s wonderful that you are going to branch out on your own!! Good luck on your test!!

  5. Oh Chris….that sucks! It really burns me when people who really need the help the most can’t get it. Especially when it’s all about money. For some reason, that just doesn’t seem right to me.

    Hang in there. You have such a good heart….I know you are doing a world of good where you are!!

  6. Ah Chris! Greed just gets into everything. Most of us –I think– don’t see anything this frustrating as frequently as you do. It must be very hard to deal with. I’m so sorry. -C

  7. I love to see people working towards there goal instead of just complaining about their situation. Every day is one day closer.

    And it sure makes me think Stormfilled’s country has the right idea.

  8. Sometimes it feels like people care more about profit than just being human. It might be frustrating for you, to care about people and not being allowed to help them. Please never forget why you chose this profession. The world needs more people like you looking after them.

  9. Chris –

    So, I debated whether or not I should say anything because my viewpoint isn’t exactly the same as others who have left you comments.

    But… as someone who has been dealing with people in crisis for 26 years (oh, my God! 26 years??) I understand what you’re saying in a way most people don’t.

    What you’re experiencing happens to everyone in a ‘helping field’ whether it’s counseling or law enforcement. You start out wanting to help everyone. You also believe that everyone wants help and you find yourself lying awake in bed wondering what more you can do to help.

    Then, reality teaches you a hard lesson; the answer, in far too many cases is simple: you can do very little to help. There simply isn’t enough time, there aren’t enough resources and, not everyone truly wants to be helped.

    Starry-eyed idealism gives way to pragmatism, or in some cases, dis-illusionment. The job becomes less about the people and more about the pay check.

    I once felt horribly guilty about sending people to jail, especially when I moved to a college setting. I have, however, come to a place in my life where I can look at them and say – you made your choices and unfortunatly they were bad ones. I am one of the consequences you were warned about.

    That doesn’t help you, I know. But, what I’m trying to point out is that the secret to it all is the ability to find a way to accept the reality – treatment programs are expensive and not everyone will be able to afford them – and somehow avoid the dis-illusionment that often leaves you bitter and uncaring.

    I cannot imagine you ever becoming uncaring but I can honestly say you need to find that balance, the sooner the better. Reality can be a cold place and you will find, even when you’re out on your own, that reality holds sway. There will never be enough time or enough resources. You will not be able to treat people for free for very long. No one can and that includes the state or the feds.

    So, my best advice? Hold your dreams and hopes close. When you are actually treating people, rejoice over your successes but learn to let go of your failures. Play the money games that you have to but do so with the knowledge that you are helping. Can you help everyone? No. But those you do help will be better off for it.

    Life, for all of its joys, can also be a cold, hard place. Hold onto those things that help you keep that reality at bay. It’s the best any of us can do.

    cjh

  10. Wow, wise and thoughtful words from CJ. And it sounds like they are something we can all take to heart. Not sure how to add to that, except to say I’m sorry that part of your job is so hard. And I’m glad that you are closer to doing what you want!

  11. Chris, I admire you for feeling that way. It’s true what CJ wrote, but personally I also feel helpless and frustrated that I have little means to help. I took psychology in university, too, but ended up a stay-at-home mom. I say you’re a million times better for sticking to the help you’re capable of giving right now.

  12. Hang in there Chris. Although my field is HR, I’ve been in the social services field since I was in high school. The absolute hardest part of the helping profession is that it is so easy to get emotionally invested in the people you work with and things like that can really shake your idealism. I have seen dedicated employees burn out after years of selfless, thankless work, because they simply couldn’t invest themselves any more. The employees who don’t really care don’t burn out… it’s the ones who are great and really, really give that burnout.

    However, people with your passion and enthusiasm are exactly the ones that are most needed in the field. So keep strong, despite the frustrations, despite the let-downs. You do a lot of good for a lot of people!

  13. It is heartbreaking to not be able to help someone who truly wants and needs help; what a frustrating thing to have to deal with. CJ makes some good points. You can only do what you can do, and people who are suffering because of the choices they made are suffering BECAUSE OF THE CHOICES THEY MADE. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel bad about not being able to help them, but hopefully their resolve to make good decisions will hold out long enough for them to find the help they need in a place where they can get it. If it doesn’t, you may not have been able to help them anyway. On the bright side, congratulations on your progress toward your goal! What a nice surprise it must have been to find out that things are moving along more quickly than you thought!

  14. Heroin usually not lethal? I would have thought it’s one of the most lethal and dangerous drugs out here!
    but anyway, I can understand how you feel, I feel so grateful anytime I can use a public health service, because I know that there’s places in the world where I couldn’t afford it!
    Your field is so crucial for people who are genuinely looking for help, and I hate to think that a clinic, a social and health service so vital should be also a business that needs to make money.
    I really hope you can fulfill your dreams one day and help people who want and need to be helped!

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