April was National Child Abuse Prevention Month. So I thought about child abuse a little more than normal. I already think about child abuse quite a bit because I hear about it frequently. As a clinical psychologist specializing in treating children and families, most people probably think, “Well, yeah. What do you expect with a job like that?” And I get that. It’s my job; par for the course, comes with the territory, a typical day… But that doesn’t make it any easier. I know we need to spread awareness about abuse. I know people sometimes don’t have all the information or don’t realize what constitutes abuse. I also know that mental illness, trauma, and drugs and alcohol make people do crazy things. But seriously, on a bad day I sometimes think to myself, “How many years are we going to have to keep promoting awareness before people know that beating up a kid or sexual abusing a child is not okay?” And a little chunk of my heart breaks because I know the answer. Never.
A lot of people think psychologists are somehow immune to the effects of hearing about other people’s tragedies and experiencing their raw emotions. Let me tell you, this is in every way untrue. One of the reasons I am able to help others is because I allow myself to experience their emotions. It’s tough too, because it’s not one of those things where the longer you do it, the easier it is. Actually it’s the opposite, at least for me. When I was a student in training, I saw and heard some traumatic stuff. And I was somehow barely affected. Or so I thought. But it’s like anything else that builds up. Like I tell my little kiddo clients, your feelings will erupt one day, just like a volcano, if you don’t take some preventative action. So I take a lot of preventative action. Taking care of myself is something I work very hard at. And sometimes I feel selfish because of it. But I know that if I don’t take care of myself, I can’t help other people heal. I need to be really there in every capacity for the people I treat. Being physically there, nodding my head and actively listening is not enough. Being really there is what heals a person. That, and being able to separate from the problem at hand, understand it, and help create acceptance or change.
It’s a tall order sometimes, being a psychologist. And I love it; I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because with every chunk of my heart that breaks off because of the cruelty in this world, a piece is reattached when someone heals. When a child finally smiles for the first time in months, or a teenager stands up for herself, or a father is able to say “I love you” and mean it when he speaks to his son; this is healing. I get to be a part of that, and that is the best gift ever.