At Abilene Christian University, during your Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy Program you will have the opportunity to complete a 500-hour internship. While you are involved in this this internship, and during your career, you will be faced with many tough conversations with your patients. As you counsel them through their issues, your own mental health may be impacted. It is important that in addition to your faith and relationship with God, you find strategies to help you manage the tough situations that you may encounter during your counseling sessions.
First, you must make sure to take time for yourself. In addition to prayer and Bible study, you will need to find a way to relax and decompress after counseling sessions. For each person, these will be different. You may find exercise relaxing. Another person may feel better writing about his or her feelings or by taking a bath and watching TV. Having a healthy routine in mind that you know will provide you with peace is essential. You don’t want to resort to eating unhealthy foods or other negative behaviors as a coping mechanism.
You also need to make sure that you remain self-aware. No therapist is invincible. Some sessions will take a toll on you more than others. If you know that you are feeling a bit too emotionally raw to take on another client or sit in on another session, speak to your supervisors or coworkers. Everyone understands the overwhelming emotions involved in therapy and the importance of mental health. Finally, you must remember that it is not your job to fix your clients. You are providing them with tools and strategies and modeling for them a way to form a relationship with God that can enhance their life and their marriage and family relationships. It is up to each client to take these tools and use them to fix themselves. Don’t feel responsible for your clients’ failures. Also, part of your client’s healing process is working through repairing their problems. If you do it for them, you are interrupting their journey. Trust the process. Trust God.
Form connections with the individuals in your office and with other therapists. Having a network of other individuals that you can discuss your cases with is extremely important. They can help you brainstorm ways to reach clients, but arguably more importantly, they can also help you identify when you are becoming too personally involved in a case. You also need to learn to rely on your church family. Reach out to them for prayer and support when you are dealing with difficult matters at work.
Finally, you must maintain a good work to life balance. It can be tempting to think about your clients throughout the day and into the evening. You may notice yourself worrying about them and their problems when you are not in session, and you can even find yourself lying awake at night. Take a step back, and remember that they are your work. Trust that God is watching over them, and focus on your family when you are at home.