It’s been forever since I wrote a blog post. Yes I know my title is bizarre…what are you looking for appreciation or validation for? You’re a therapist! Yes but I’m human being and I’m a creative that loves to be intellectually promiscuous so I need to be in professional spaces that affirm who I am. For close to three years I worked at a local, urban community health care clinic as the only licensed mental health therapist in the medical clinic. Our patients were largely African American or West African. Most of the primary care providers were White American.
Many therapists don’t publicly discuss how sometimes we work in spaces that are emotionally harmful to us and we continue to do so because we believe so much in the work we do. I had such an experience. This past year (my third year) I worked full time at an organization that hired a licensed mental health professional (Supervisor #2) that was burned out upon their day of arrival. No one could see this because their interview was stellar, I know this because I sat in on their interview. I sat in on this interview because the supervisor for my department (Supervisor #1) that hired me resigned a year prior. As a result my coworkers and I had no supervisor for 7 months. Supervisor #1 was great! She continually emphasized self care, she allowed me to talk about my future professional goals and made sure all of our professional practices were ethical/ professional. Months after Supervisor #2 started working the signs of their burnout began to become visible in patient and staff care (or lack thereof).
I began to resent my clinical supervisor (supervisor #2), expressed my concerns during my supervisions, that eventually escalated to my concerns to Human Resources. I was unsuccessful with getting my concerns met because HR staff had no prior history or knowledge of behavioral health practices, laws, or ethics. My supervisor saw this weakness and then successfully retaliated against my complaints with a bad evaluation (my first one in life). I was also denied a raise. I worked hard, I deserved my raise. My supervisor #2 was a White male with misogynistic practices. He verbalized his discomfort being around pregnant women and spoke of how he desired to stop a breastfeeding therapy patient from feeding her baby during sessions. I shuddered. I couldn’t believe this was really happening. How was this ethical? When I expressed my desire to provide perinatal mental health services at my full time job I was denied a space and the opportunity to do so. My job description eventually changed. I was now asked to see 8 patients a day in 20 minute intervals in comparison to my Caucasian coworker’s expected 5 patients (My employer had more than one clinic and so another therapist worked in my role at one of their other clinic sites). I was not allowed to make decisions independently and my clinical supervisor failed to create policies and procedures in place (in writing) to protect myself, our patients, or our coworkers during psychiatric emergencies. It was a nightmare. You know how many times I’ve seen patients yell at me or others saying “You don’t care about me. You’re just here for a paycheck”. “You’re not really Black, you’re just here for a check”. Or some patients would confide in me because we were both Black their experiences of being mistreated by my supervisor…during their therapy sessions. While I was fighting for adequate counseling services at my full time job the acuity of the clinics patients began to increase. My supervisor’s micromanagement increased. He’d stand at the building window to watch me come to work on time every day then stand at my desk and wait for me when I’d walk in EVERY DAY. I had to write down and scan my schedule of visits to him everyday, in addition to my 8 patient visits, progress notes, phone calls, meetings, etc. He’d also belittle me in front of coworkers, making my coworkers uncomfortable. I had 2 panic attacks at work which almost resulted in a medical emergency code being called. I once even ran away from a stranger that had called 911 for me because I stepped outside for fresh air and had a panic attack. Eventually my supervisor was terminated for behavior unrelated to my issues.
Eventually I decided to start my own private practice this year specializing in maternal mental health. After seeing women get denied adequate services, I wanted to provide supportive services to prenatal and postpartum moms. I wanted mothers to get the services they deserve. I love my practice and I get excited every time I go to my office. I love helping to empower women! You can visit my practice Akoma Counseling Concepts, LLC here. I also went to my own personal therapy to help manage my work related stress. I really looked forward to seeing my therapist. She was so helpful!
While I started my private practice I maintained my full time employment at the clinic. We got a new director (Supervisor #3), I got excited. But then word about my practice began to spread and my full time employer did not like that. I did not sign a no compete contract. I was good…I thought. The acuity of my patients again increased, patients were now walking into their primary care appointments suicidal…weekly…many of them had never seen a mental health provider in their lives. I’d never seen so many high acuity patients back to back alone (this went on for months). The stories were beginning to become traumatizing and I realized I couldn’t even watch pop culture TV shows without being bothered. It was hard to just talk on the phone or respond to text messages from my friends. My new supervisor #3 was ill equipped to work with primary care providers because my supervisor did not have any prior medical experience. My job description changed yet again, my supervisor started creating unrealistic expectations, and quite frankly didn’t know how to do my job. Supervisor #3 and #2 both did not incorporate self care practices into my work day and would not allow me to do so. Many times they’d rationalize that a 5 minute break for 1-2 crisis a day was all the breaks I should have. I was constantly being told what I was not doing correctly while my mental health community outside of my place of work praised me daily. When your professional world beats you up it gets hard to be happy, stay focused, be relaxed, and even be confident. I began to begin my weeks looking forward to Friday.
I slowly came to realize that this was not healthy. This was not okay. I should live to look forward to everyday and not just the weekend. I should also mention that I had some supportive friends and family members during this year. They were helpful as well. I came up with a plan that would allow me to breathe, relax, take time for myself, my professional goals, and help others. I decided to resign from my full time job. I made a plan to work part time for a former employer and then work part time for myself. My Fridays are now mine to do whatever I want. My coworkers expressed their relief, sadness, but joy that I can be happy again- that I’ll finally work in spaces where myself and my patients will be appreciated. So you see while I love helping others heal, it is important for us clinicians to work in environments that keep us whole and help others heal too. Clinicians need support too. I hope my story inspires someone to make a positive change in their work life. I hope this story didn’t traumatize you!