As A Helper You Have To Expect Setbacks
In our opinion the single biggest cause of burnout for those in the helping professions is unrealistic expectations about the motivation levels and chances of success of their clients. Young professionals go into their fields with a lot of passion and energy. They take it for granted that their clients will share this same passion and energy and use it to change their lives for the better. Yet another case of projection rearing its ugly head.
As a helper you have to expect setbacks. You have to expect that even when things seem to be going really well and your clients are making great strides in overcoming their problems that sooner or later they’ll regress. This is the norm not the exception and all we need do to verify this fact is take a survey of our own experiences trying to replace longstanding destructive patterns of behavior with more productive patterns. It’s hard work and even when we come to judge our efforts as successful we’ll be able to isolate many instances of failure along the way.
The thing to keep front and center is that your passion and energy levels are not necessarily the passion and energy levels of your clients. You have to meet them where they are right now not where you wish they were. The person responsible for getting your hopes way up and then having them dashed time and time again is you not your client.
It’s possible to maintain the unwavering belief that your clients can change their lives for the better without getting caught up in the destructive cycle of high hopes and sinking despair. And again the best way to do this is to take it for granted that setbacks are going to occur along the way, that these setbacks are basically unavoidable. This doesn’t mean having or instilling a pessimistic attitude, it doesn’t mean expecting less, it doesn’t mean sanctioning destructive behavior. It only means getting on board the process rather than focusing too much on some desired distant outcome that may or may not come to pass.
People change in their own ways on their own time. The job of the competent helper is to provide the right type of support and to help generate the right type of insight so that clients can clear away blockages and activate their own growth energies. Just like a mountain guide can’t carry the climber to the top but can only show the best path forward, a professional helper can’t force change but can only assist in it and therefore shouldn’t become too emotionally invested in the rate or weight of that change.