As a clinician, I often get to experience the privilege of being a part of a client’s healing journey. It is truly the best part of my job; seeing the progress that someone can make in transforming their life into one that they really feel is worth living. Sometimes I’ll get a card or a note from a former client letting me know how they’re doing and thanking me for the role I played in their journey. While receiving accolades is certainly not the reason I chose my profession, these little notes are certainly gratifying to receive and have become cherished possessions. They serve as reminders that people really can get better, even when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges. Knowing this is true makes even the hardest days on the job worth it.
Unfortunately, sometimes there are some really hard days on the job, and every mental health professional has experienced them. Working one-on-one with people offers its own dialectic; it is at times equal parts rewarding and incredibly challenging. Even the most skilled and experienced clinician among us is a human being first, and, as such, can be impacted by the work that we do. In the worst of circumstances, although hopefully very rare, there may even be times when our clients die from their mental illness, and it is impossible to not be affected by that. When our clients hurt and struggle, or even challenge us, we need to have our own resources and support so that we don’t take that on internally or have it negatively impact our work.
As a DBT therapist, I feel very grateful to be part of a DBT consultation team. I had an experience with a client recently that was incredibly challenging and emotionally difficult, and it was my consultation team that helped me to get through it. As most mental health professionals know, it’s hard to go home and talk to friends and family about our work. Not only are we (understandably) prevented from doing so by the constraints of confidentiality, the reality is that it’s very difficult to convey to someone outside of it what it’s like to do this work. It is within the environment offered by consultation that we can really get the level of support that we need. The support that we get in our DBT consultation teams helps to ensure that we don’t take on the hopelessness and helplessness that our clients often experience; it allows us to continue to be able to offer healing and hope.
Consultation is essential not only to provide support and camaraderie to each other, but also to help prevent us from tunnel vision or otherwise becoming ineffective. We often work with people who present with complex problems that could easily pull us into a myriad of different directions, and consultation helps us to develop and stay focused on what is the most effective treatment plan. It takes us out of ourselves and offers perspectives that we otherwise may have missed. The value of being part of a DBT consultation team cannot be understated. Certainly, it helps to mitigate the potential emotional toll of being a clinician, but more importantly, consultation helps us to be our best self every time we sit down with a client, which is ultimately what they deserve.