The Hazards and Joys of work in Mental Health

Image

One of the riskiest and most challenging aspects of working in mental health is that of suicide.  For those who are depressed, bipolar, and psychotic that risk is very high.  We do everything in our power to prevent such tragedies.

In the last two weeks at work I have witnessed two contrasting stories on the topic.  Firstly, a client committed suicide that was on the caseload of one of the case manager.  This client’s life was very hard, she suffered from extreme highs and lows and she had numerous previous attempts where she had escaped death. The case manager noted that on the weekend that it happened there was a hang-up message from that client.  So close to asking for help.  This was very hard for the case manager and for all those who had worked with the client over the many years.

The second story is one of miraculous grace.  A client of a different case manager told me that one of her clients told her that over the week-end her client had prepared to commit suicide and was ready to do it and at that very moment her phone rang and the client picked it up.  It was his daughter who he had not heard from in 10 years calling to say that she wanted to come and visit him shortly.  This stopped the man in his tracks and he sought out help.

I have never experienced the loss a client by suicide, but I understand that most people who work in mental health do so at some point in their career.  I know that likely I would struggle emotionally and feel guilt and wonder what I could have done.  I know it would be an incredibly painful experience.  Trusting in God, as a loving father, I know he loves that deeply wounded and through the second story see that he does miraculously use us weak human beings for his means of grace in this world.

I was interviewing and listening to a new client the other day as she told me her story of death of all of those close to her, parents who were not available or in jail, and chronic physical problems. I  also read the chart to see also that she had experienced abuse in foster case.  It is so easy to understand how people become so hopeless when they experience life as unhappy and without joy as this woman described.  I just wanted this client to experience the love of Jesus.  The story of the phone call reminds me that God moves in mysterious ways gently and unexpectedly through each person’s life.

My lenten discipline for this season is to endeavour to pray for each client before seeing them and ask that God would give me openness, patience, love and grace.

Prayers for helping professionals: St. Francis’ Prayer

A couple of months back my husband and I decided to adopt a few short prayers for certain times of the day.  We decided to go with the Lord’s prayer in the morning, St. Francis’ prayer midday, and use a liturgy (commonprayer.net) together for the evening, or open prayer.

According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_of_Saint_Francis) the earliest written manuscript of this prayer was published in a French Catholic journal in 1912, and likely was not penned by St. Francis.

Its inclusion into our daily prayer rhythms was suggested by my husband.  I was hesitant to add it because I have always found its content quite difficult.  I balk at a prayer that is all about taking action for others as much of my life is spent supposedly in that direction.   Aren’t we supposed to emphasize God’s love and grace for us rather than focus on performing deeds? There are so many cautions in our modern-day about giving too much to others.  In the helping professions there is a constant emphasis on “self-care”.  This prayer, in contrast, seems like an invitation to burnout to those in the field.

However, today, unlike most days, I remembered to pray in the afternoon a few minutes before I had a counselling appointment with a client.  It was in those moments of prayer that I let go of my disdain for this prayer and I saw that this was the perfect prayer for helping professionals.

Each line contains a purpose for our encounters with people; they are not idle or random moments but defined moments of grace for God to work through as his instruments of his peace.  As a counsellor preparing to meet someone with depression I pray that through the grace of God (and my training and preparation) that where there is darkness there will be light, and where there is despair there will be hope.  Meditating on such concrete concepts helped orient myself from theory and practice to faithfully entrust this client to God’s hands.

In that moment of being fully present to someone, at its core, is an opportunity for deep healing for another person rather. This is in contrast to it being just another opportunity to meet our needs or our skill or knowledge.   As we do this, like the last few lines of this prayer describe, we realize that through this process of dying to ourselves and giving of ourselves we do find life and receive.

As someone who helps others, how does this prayer make you feel, does it speak to you or feel inauthentic?