A counselor speaks: My job is not crummy, it’s uplifting: Pessimists need not apply

For years people told me I had a terrible job.

How can you stand it, sitting there listening to people whine and cry all day?

You must go home so depressed.

I wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut. I’d just want to slap them and tell them to shape up.

Life is hard enough already, why do you want to hear other people’s troubles all day?

My sister-in-law was a counselor for a year and she had to get out. It was driving her to drink.           Those people didn’t want any help.

Some even suggested that I had a voyeuristic nature, getting my kicks by peering into other people’s business all the time. Or warned that it would ruin me if I stayed with it for long – I would start to think that everyone was screwed up, and doing therapy would change me instead.

Not at all. Call me crazy, but instead of dragging me down, the hope of helping someone find a better future buoyed me up.

It’s not that I’ve never seen burnout – I’ve seen counselors leave the profession and become scuba instructors, romance writers, bookstore owners, chocolatiers, realtors. Good for them, I say, if their passions lay elsewhere or if they couldn’t take it after a while. For me, this potentially crummy job was a great fit. Why?

I am curious. Getting to know every new client is kind of like opening a present – there is the wrapping, and then there is what’s inside.

My threshold for suffering is pretty high. If I was asked to sit and juggle numbers all day (unlikely that anyone would ask, as that is not where my strengths lie), or deal with troubles like the cable isn’t working properly or I want to sue my neighbor, I’d be the one looking for therapy. For me to engage, the stakes need to be high.

I am an optimist who firmly believes in the ability to change. There is no point arguing with me about it, because I’ve seen it too many times.

I am not hooked  on peeping into others’ troubles, but on the forward motion that comes with change: from helplessness to mastery, from despair to hope, from paralysis to action. Anyone who has ever seen someone transform from addiction to sobriety, or from depression to positivity, or from anxiety to calm, has had a taste of it.

But I’m no Pollyana. Change is a long sloppy process and there are stalls and reversals and disappearances all the time. You have to take the long view and a seed-planting philosophy. But there is nothing like the rare phone call or note from a former client about a turnaround.

People don’t often credit their success to the therapist they worked with, as they know that they did it themselves. A good therapist provides a safe place, an hour to just think of yourself and your hopes, good information, some perspective, and the occasional kick in the rear. It’s all about resilience and self-sufficiency. So, this would be a crummy job for a person who needs a trophy.

And that prediction that I’d turn into a different person? When I walked in my own door at the end of a long day, I felt bathed in gratitude for my own life.

Counseling a crummy job? It would be, for a person who needs 100% success, immediate feedback, bricks and mortar results, or black and white answers, the worst.

But for a curious, affiliative, expectant person like me, it could be the best. Maybe in the end, it isn’t the job that is crummy, but the fit. We’ll see what my ChicagoNow cohorts have to say on the matter of their crummy jobs this week. Stay tuned.


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