So, as all good things must come to an end, I begrudgingly went back to work last Wednesday.
Upon my return I feared masses of voicemails and emails and old fashioned mail full of demands and commands and questions needing answered, but I was pleasantly surprised to have only 6 voicemails, thirty some-odd emails (mostly being stuff I could delete--mass all staff emails or invitations for trainings or meetings I don't need to attend but seem to go to everyone--), and a non-overflowing mailbox. Also somehow I seemed to have more cancellations than usual, so Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday ended up being pretty slow days, client-wise. I did have a mass of overdue and soon to be due paperwork to catch up on, but my motivation has been at a record low, so I have been filling up my time doing a little bit here and there and spending the rest of my time surfing the net and catching up on all those odd errands that I put off doing because I was too busy.
I had hoped that a week off would have me returning to work feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. But this is not the case. In fact, after coming back my spirits seem to be lower than ever. Not only do I dread coming to my office, dread meeting with my supervisor, dread working three evening shifts, and dread being on-call, but I realized that I am losing my passion for working with children and adolescents and am feeling burned out.
I was always warned of the high rate of burn out in the child/adolescent arena. I have fought it for five years, telling myself those wise things that previous co-workers told me ("anything you do is therapeutic with a child", "for some of these kids, you are the only person they have got to talk to", "sometimes you are part of the baby steps toward their progress, maybe they don't get it this time, but maybe they will next time", "you are walking besides them during the tough times in their life").
After you've worked with children and adolescents for awhile, you truly understand why the burn out rate is so high. Half of them don't want to be in counseling, but their parent/guardian is making them. The other half don't agree on what is the problem, what are the goals of therapy, or how to best deal with the problem. Their parent is probably telling me that their child has "anger issues" or a "bad attitude" or "no respect." The kid is probably saying they "hate their parent/step parent, parent's boyfriend or girlfriend, that no one understands them, that talking to someone doesn't help." Upon further inspection, almost always there are underlying problems going on. The kids I work with rarely have lived a "normal" childhood. Many are raised by a single parent, some by grandparents. Many had parents using drugs or alcohol when they were conceived or when they were young. Many moved once a year every year of their young life. All of this impacts normal child development, the development of healthy attachment, the healthy ability to regulate emotions and behavior. The child gets older and starts having "problems." We end up labeling the symptoms as a mood disorder, an anxiety disorder, a behavior disorder, an adjustment disorder. Depending on the family's level of understanding and insight, they might be able to recognize the underlying issues and actually address the root of the problem. But for most this is not the case. They focus on the current problems, focus on the need for medication, focus on how therapy is absolutely necessary or isn't helping at all. Few parents/caretakers take any responsibility or role in the process of change. They want me to fix their kid. And they don't understand when I don't. They don't understand that change can be a slow process. The almighty State of Illinois and it's lovely Medicaid system also doesn't understand that change is a slow process. Teach coping skills, get them in, get them stable, and get them out. All of these pressures. Little positive reinforcement. They leave me feeling like "what's the point, what good am I doing to anyone here?"
I used to get enough positive reinforcement with the occasional hug, the occasional "thank you", the knowing in my heart a child benefitted from something we said or did together, even if their parent, guardian, or teacher didn't agree. But lately it's not been enough. I feel drained and less and less hopeful about continuing on in this field, or at least in the child/adolescent arena. At least with adults they have to answer for themselves. I need a change and need it badly. I can feel myself not caring and not doing my best, which isn't fair to my clients. I keep searching for a new job, but no luck. Not in this economy, where jobs are being cut every day and social services have lost funding.
Maybe it's time to change fields, but that would likely involve quitting work or going part-time, more schooling and taking out student loans. Not the best plan when you have a mortgage and bills and your husband is also in the social service field (meaning we are both overworked and underpaid!).
Until now I just have to get by a day at a time.