Some thoughts from the Chair of the MN LGBTQ Therapist Network:
For many of us who are LGBTQ+ mental health providers, these weeks since “Orlando” have been intensely emotionally and psychologically draining – on both a personal and professional level.
We have been raw with our own pain, PTSD, shock and grief from the tragic events of Sunday, June 12, 2016; only exacerbated by the ongoing subsequent political, religious, familial, and social macro- and micro-aggressions that unsurprisingly followed. “Orlando” epitomizes the day-in and day-out personal and collective violence, rejection, discrimination, invisibility, and injustices caused by homo-hatred, heterosexism, racism, xenophobia, bi-erasure, and transphobia that we in the queer and queer POC communities face each day. We, as LGBTQ+ people, consistently confront these root causes of our collective and personal “Oppression Fatigue.” “Orlando” maximized them to our core.
And yet, as therapists, we still showed up each day since (as best as we could) and have done our work of listening empathetically to the PTSD, grief, fear and anger of our LGBTQ+ clients; and equally attended to the therapeutic needs of our non-queer clients – who may or may not have even mentioned “Orlando.”
This parallel process, clinical hour after clinical hour, can naturally take a toll on us. This toll often results in vicarious trauma. Unattended vicarious trauma of caregivers can develop into “Compassion Fatigue.” Compassion fatigue, (emotional exhaustion and an isolative emptiness of empathy), is already a common “hazard” of our job as mental health providers. It is exponentially more likely and more harmful when it is exacerbated by a trauma that strikes deeply in our own lives and in the communities of our chosen family.
Given these times, perhaps more than ever, taking our own advice and making our self-care a priority is nothing less than imperative. In the name of responsible personal and professional care, I offer these suggestions:
- We must not be in denial about how Orlando may be impacting us personally and professionally.
- We need to consciously assess our emotional, spiritual and physical well-being.
- We must accept our own limitations, take more breaks, and make healthy choices that honor our needs and feelings.
- We need to connect with our trusted colleagues, our own therapists or guides, so that we can stay ahead of our own vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue. We in Minnesota are organizing a gathering for LGBTQ+ mental health professionals to address these issues: The Ripple Effects of Orlando: We LGBTQ+ Therapists Need to Take Care of Ourselves, too
- We must seek professional consultation about any client counter-transference issues or feelings of burn-out.
- We need to request and accept support and care from our friends and loved ones.
- I will go a step further and insist that we come out of the clinical boxes we call our offices and take a stand. Despite the fact that many of us therapists are introverts, I suggest that, in whatever way we can, we extend our time, money, vote, voice or effort towards any action that puts a dent in our own oppression and the oppression of our clients.
Compassion fatigue born of oppression fatigue succinctly illustrates the undeniable intersections of “the professional, is the personal, is the political.”