Working for a Community Mental Health

What do you want to do with your life?

I just want a job where I can serve the underserved

This used to be my response when people asked me what I wanted to do with my Master’s in Clinical Psychology. I want to serve the underserved. I want to work for people who otherwise couldn’t afford the help.

And I sure do.

I am currently working for a Rural Community Mental Health agency, and I am realizing why non-profits have such high turnover rates among employees and why there is a small group of people serving the underserved.

It is freaking hard work.

I work with people of all ages, races, religions, and socio-economic statuses. I’ve worked with people with depression, bi-polar, schizophrenia, oppositional defiant disorder, antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia, and more. I’ve dealt with walk-in suicidal crises, clients referred by DFS because their kids have been taken away, and clients who are referred by their probation or parole officer or who have just exited prison.

We also only have staff meetings once a month, and in these meetings we do not have time to discuss our cases. We have a quota of clients we must see each week, and yet have no control over our schedules or whether or not our clients show up. We are constantly being given more paperwork or having to change the way we document. I make a fraction of what I could make in a private practice. There is very little variety to my day. I typically see 6-8 people back to back all day, and 25-35 people per week.

By the end of the week I am so emotionally drained I feel like I have nothing left to give. I am so grateful to my husband who just hugs me and listens, or unloads the dishwasher so I won’t have to. My emotions are spent. I always feel. so. very. tired.

I feel guilty, because this is what I always wanted to do, and yet all I can think about is how I can’t wait to quit and join a private practice somewhere. Wouldn’t that be nice!

But I wouldn’t be serving the underserved. They would be people who can afford good services in swanky offices (as opposed to our basement office with white walls and 80s, faded paintings).

I don’t know how to serve the underserved and not burn out. I don’t even know if it’s possible. But I know that these people that I see daily deserve good care. They may be more difficult to serve because they have so many stressors and so few supports, but perhaps that’s why they need help all the more. I work with people who have never had anyone believe in them, who never had a mom who told them they loved them, or who have been abused by every man that has ever entered their life.

But then I feel so exposed to all the sadness, sickness, and evil in the world, sometimes it feels too heavy.

It’s a constant internal struggle, because I think I can’t do this anymore. But then I think, who can? I know that I am not a hero and that if I left my job someone else would be hired and do the same thing….but my question is what is my calling? Am I called to continue in a stressful and emotionally draining job because service means sacrifice and willingness to do the hard thing? Or am I allowed to have a job I enjoy and feel more at peace every day on my way to and from work?

I feel conflicted and I really don’t think there’s an easy answer (so please don’t attempt to give me one). All I know is for some reason God has me here and some days are beautiful…but most days are hard.

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2 thoughts on “Working for a Community Mental Health

  1. I for sure have no answer for you. I can say as someone who’s life the Lord has used you to dramatically change, that you are being the hands and feet of Jesus right now and you are making differences in ways I’m sure aren’t visible right now. So, for those who can’t or won’t say it to you right now, thank you for doing the hard thing; thank you for dreading going to work some days because of the pain and raw-ness that you will encounter there; thank you for sitting in dark, scary places with us when we can’t sit there alone. Thank you for seeing the beauty in the ugliness you face and for allowing yourself to care enough that you don’t want to face it everyday.

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