A beginning therapist’s guide to the universe, or “How to run a relaxation group while a patient vomits…”
Granted, I knew becoming a clinical social worker would be challenging—more challenging that writing brochures and thinking up new ways to respond to the following: “I’m not telling you how to do your [marketing] job but look at this brochure I found” (said brochure is always the most expensive piece known to man)…and then, “Yes, can we make it look like that (the very expensive 4-color brochure) and pay $500?” You might as well have said, “…for the same price as drawing with crayons on recycled newspaper?” Or, “Oh, you know, make it creative.” Or, the best, “I just have a few changes” the day before printing.
Then, I moved into the far away and strange world of social work, where you find both the best in humans and the very worst. People stealing from the disabled, people suffering unspeakable tragedies and abuse, but still giving life their best shot, people blowing their life savings during just one bipolar manic phase. You name it. You get the joy. You get the heartache. You see people practically come back from the dead. You see people struggle with things that are unimaginable. You learn some sort of painful (and immeasurably valuable) life lesson just about everyday.
Then there are times that make you incredulous or just make you laugh out loud. I remember when I started this new career I was leading a relaxation group with about 12 people. During the most calming deep breathing part, I hear “heclgh, heclgh, heclgh, bleeeeeehhhhhhhhh!!!!!” I open my eyes to a patient spewing all over the carpet with absolutely no control.
I was surprised to see about half the group was still in a deep relaxation. Several are aghast. One runs from the room hand over mouth. “Uh, just keep breathing…um, don’t worry, just keep your eyes closed and keep breathing (thank goodness it didn’t smell)…we’ll take care of this…”
Well, we moved to another room. It was a little difficult to return to the same level of relaxation. The patient was unaffected by the whole thing.
It has taken me a full year to get to the point I don’t collapse at the end of the day. At first I was completely exhausted and emotionally immobilized after the work day; now I’ve started beginning to practice the survival skill of detaching from work when I go out the door. Patients still creep around in my head, but they don’t keep me awake or distracted during my free time. It’s finally starting to BE free time again.
The main thing I have learned so far is that there is so, so, so much more to learn. Beginner’s mind is useful here.