By: Patricia Berendsen, MTS, RMFT
I once heard a saying: “What appears to be a breakdown has the potential to become a breakthrough.” Nothing can be more fitting than observing these words of wisdom being played out in any work situation of which I have been a part.
Working in the social service world sometimes feels like finding your way through a maze. Navigating the political realities of an agency can be confusing or intimidating. At other times, dealing with the difficult personalities of colleagues, supervisors, or managers can be tiring, discouraging, and exasperating. Some clinical sessions with clients can leave you feeling confounded, with your back against the wall, not knowing which way to turn. Doubt can creep in and make you wonder, “Is change really possible?” “How can I keep doing this work?” “I feel like I have nothing left to give and I just want to quit!” Yes, these challenging realities can wear us down. However, they also have the opportunity to point us to the basics of what drew us into this work in the first place.
The other day, a colleague and I met over lunch to talk about some of our experiences, she as a child and youth worker and myself in my role as a clinician. Our time had speedily passed into a shared journey of roadblocks and breakdowns that also led to triumphs and breakthroughs. What became clear was the commonality of our collective experiences, in spite of our very different roles. Unequivocally, our professional and personal challenges revealed to us that “breakdowns” can become portals for “breakthroughs,” as well as the importance of the following five keys for keeping the soul in our work!
1. Ignite and Maintain Passion
Passion is essential for the work that we do. Most of us enter our particular discipline with incredible enthusiasm for making change. Our zeal is usually accompanied by naiveté and assumes that everyone else in the field is just as fervent as we are. Passion is like the fuel needed to keep us running. If we are running out of energy, then we are running out of passion and need to refuel.
2. Accept Disappointment and Disillusionment
For some reason, it seems that we are surprised when this happens. However, we should expect and anticipate disillusionment. If we acknowledge that we will undoubtedly be disappointed and challenged as we endeavour to facilitate change, then we will minimize the potential for taking things personally and prevent resentment or hostility from taking root in our lives. Sometimes things don’t work out...despite our repeated and well-intentioned efforts, regardless of our well-planned agendas, even with additional funding or finally having a full compliment of staff. On these occasions, surrendering to what is actually happening, accepting, and working with it can facilitate our internal experience of stabilization and calmness.
3. Build Safety Nets
Both of us recognized the invaluable contribution of sharing our burdens and joys with a trusted colleague. A key link to longevity in our respective fields has been the honest feedback and support of other committed professionals with whom we can truly bear our souls. When supervising interns, I always encourage them to keep their eyes, ears, and hearts open for people with whom they develop or have developed professional connections. They may be former professors, employers, supervisors, classmates, or current colleagues. Nurturing these relationships is critical to our endurance and increased efficacy in our careers. Through these connections, we are given a “soft place to fall” when we need to be buoyed up. When we encounter professional “high moments,” they can be celebrated with someone who really knows the significance of this particular breakthrough.
4. Embrace the Seasons of Professional Life
We change. The instinctive toddler-like curiosity for learning and touching everything in sight often characterizes our entrance into our respective fields. This is frequently typified by our engagement in many professional development activities, volunteering, watching, and taking in whatever we can to aid us in our practical skill development and in increasing our knowledge base.
Gradually, the accumulated wisdom we have garnered transitions us to a place of consolidation. Theory and practice merge and we are able to carry out our roles more effortlessly. Often, our professional selves become more clearly defined and our confidence is increased. We may find a particular area we want to specialize in and pursue our interests deliberately and consciously.
As time goes on, we may wish to share our learning and experience with those who are new to the field in the role of mentor, supervisor, or coach. Eventually, when we retire from our work, we will have realized our vision of having passed on the torch of caring to the next generation of professionals.
5. Retain a Sense of Humor
Undoubtedly, a good laugh is a wonderful reprieve from the stress that is inherent in our jobs. Our experiences with clients can be unexpected springboards for the eruption of a belly laugh. Yes, we do want to be respectful of those we serve and at the same embrace our humanity. Some things that happen are just plain hilarious. Humor is also one of those tools that can help us see a new perspective when we feel that our “back is against the wall” and we are at the breaking point. Laughter can propel us toward our much needed breakthrough.
Remember—“What appears to be a breakdown has the potential to become a breakthrough.”
Patricia Berendsen, M.T.S., RMFT, maintains an active private practice in individual, couple, and family therapy and clinical supervision in London, Ontario, Canada. Patricia also provides clinical services as a clinician with the Clinical Supports Program at the Centre for Children and Families in the Justice System of the London Family Court Clinic. Additionally, she is an approved supervisor with OAMFT/AAMFT. She can be contacted at email@example.com