Tending Minds, Empowering Hearts: Navigating the Depths of Mental Health as a Therapist

In the relentless realm of mental health, a young therapist grapples with the weight of preventing tragedy in an educational institute. As they navigate the complexities of their profession, the story unfolds, delving into the delicate balance between healing others and preserving one's own mental well-being.
India, Southern Asia

Story by Anonymous. Edited by Charu Thukral
Published on February 25, 2024. Reading time: 5 minutes

Two months into my role as a mental health professional  in an educational  institute, a heart-breaking event unfolded: a student took their life. The shock and confusion were overwhelming, especially because I had recently completed my education and was still navigating the nuances of this profession. The entire therapy team and institute staff swiftly responded to the crisis, striving to prevent any recurrence. However, in the following weeks, similar tragedies unfolded—each more devastating than the last. Given the frequency, students had started to get desensitized about these incidents which deeply shook me as a therapist. It ignited a sense of urgency within me. I realized the pressing need to do something and change this alarming mindset. Since then, I've dedicated myself to working closely with my students, aiming to transform their outlook and ensure that none of them  ever feel compelled to take such a drastic step.

My initial encounter with psychology during my school years sparked a deep fascination with the subject. Discovering the impact that childhood experiences have over our entire lifespan was nothing short of transformative. Led by this keen interest, I started a long academic journey, pursuing my graduation, master's, and eventually, my M.Phil in psychology. Along this path, my interactions with different clients from varied settings, organising talks and awareness campaigns provided me with invaluable insights. Working with individuals across all age groups made clear the remarkable diversity of human experiences. Each person I encountered had a unique narrative and distinct journey that shaped their perspectives. Their stories became a grounding force for me. This field, with its diversity of narratives and perspectives on life, continues to keep me rooted in reality—the aspect I cherish the most about my work.

During my pursuit of an M.Phil while in medical college, my fellow students frequently sought professional guidance and support. Being able to assist them brought me immense satisfaction and deepened my interest in delving into the mental health challenges of adolescents and young adults. Driven by my desire to work extensively with this specific demographic, I made the decision to join an educational institute as a mental health professional.

Working in the institute for a few months, each day, I found myself engaging with nearly 7 to 8 clients, amounting to about 7 to 8 hours of continuous sessions. My workload can feel overwhelming at times as the demand for support is undeniably high. Most educational institutes have on an average only 3-4 clinical psychologists catering to a student population exceeding 10,000. Although not every student necessitates therapy, the weight of responsibility often feels immense. 

Initially, I had the mindset of wanting to 'fix' everything, as I felt accountable for each student's well-being. However, over time, I've come to realize my limitations. As a therapist, I can only do so much, and I've learned the importance of setting boundaries. Senior therapists have cautioned me about the tendency of young therapists like myself to quickly burn out due to an eagerness to shoulder excessive loads at the outset, mistakenly believing we can manage it all. Eventually, the burden starts to show on the physical and mental health of psychologists. 

One of the most challenging aspects of this job is encountering clients who resist our unwavering efforts to support them. We religiously follow established protocols, offer diverse forms of assistance, and, when needed, refer them to other professionals, yet unfortunately, not all respond positively. I’ve found it crucial to recognize that our sessions with them only span an hour, leaving the remaining 160 hours of the week beyond our influence. Some clients, despite being prescribed medications by psychiatrists, opt to discontinue their medication and/or disregard suggested lifestyle changes. Personally, the most disheartening cases involve families who struggle to comprehend the severity of their child's distress. Initially, I felt defeated and frustrated, witnessing a lack of parental acknowledgement toward their child's struggles. However, upon introspection and processing these emotions, I’ve developed empathy for the parents, recognizing the complexities they navigate. As therapists, it's paramount that we conceal our frustration and instead endeavor to elucidate the situation to the parents as effectively as possible. Understanding our own limitations is integral; we acknowledge that despite our best efforts, there's a boundary to what we can accomplish.

Such situations and the work burden does challenge our own mental health. Nevertheless, we have developed our coping mechanisms to navigate through such difficulties. Personally, finding solace in reading and listening to stories from fellow therapists, engaging in heartfelt conversations with friends, and taking breaks during downtime and weekends significantly helps me to reset. We need to keep reinforcing ourselves that we are giving our best despite all the self-blame and self-doubt.  

As someone who was once a student myself, numerous cases have resonated with me. However, what keeps me going is witnessing the ways that therapy helps bring about positive transformations in students' lives. One student approached me and shared these impactful words: 'I owe my life to you,' 'I no longer grapple with thoughts of self-harm,' 'I'm shedding my fears and embracing therapy—all because of you.' Realizing the profound influence of my work on someone's life stirred deep emotions within me and made me continue my work, improve and grow each day.

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Topic: Education

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