The following was written by Erin Brindle as part of our brief series on issues related to mental health for Mental Health Awareness Month.
A realization that formed my identity as a counselor occurred when tables were turned, and I was the patient. That realization was that imperfections are part of my faith walk–not quite finished and expectant to grow in myself to be more like God. Growing up, I had a child’s faith and vision of what my life might include. As an adult, I call these experiences “being human.” God has arranged my life to be better than I could have arranged and better than I could have imagined in some cases.
As a counselor, gentleness with my own soul’s growth has been helpful as I encounter others who are hurting. I have had guilt, grief, and losses and continue to eventually surrender those to God. I want to fix it, heal it, and dissolve pain, and I continue to learn to give my concerns to God for his help. Empathy is a gift that arises out of awareness of my vulnerability.
At the hospital where I work, a client recently expressed losses and a lack of control over their mental health. I can understand the tension between control and surrender of control in order to heal. Ultimately, I need God’s help to be helpful to others. Compassion fatigue is when human cares become burdens weightier than my strength to carry.
We can all be susceptible to compassion fatigue. Dr. Charles Figley, an expert in compassion fatigue, explains, “We feel the feelings of our clients. We experience their fears. We dream their dreams. Eventually, we lose a certain spark of optimism, humor and hope. We tire. We aren’t sick, but we aren’t ourselves.”
People who I meet as clients sometimes know God. To weigh and attempt to understand the lives of others requires both empathy as a counselor and God’s help to walk alongside hurting people. I’m often wrestling with how best to support a client who may have a series of losses that lend him or her to distrust others and seek human approval. While it is my honor to walk with healing and hurting people, God has proven to me that he ultimately cares for us and loves us. I experience God’s love daily in His provision, surprising loving relationships, and community. Surrendering to God is a difficult concept for me due to pride; however, vulnerability to God allows his healing.