Dr. David B. Adams – Psychological Blog

Psychology of Illness, Pain, Anxiety and Depression

Self Protection

Protect the personProtect the Professional

“…and it’s a job that is burning me out…”

Two psychologists, one old and one young, were walking together to the parking lot. The young one is clearly exhausted. The older one comments that he going to wash up and play several sets of tennis.

The young one says “I don’t know how you do it. Patients tell you about their terrible lives, their suffering and their misery. It just wears me down. How do you keep it from destroying you?”

The older psychologist responds: “It’s quite easy…I simply don’t listen.”

When an injured worker desribes his significant and unrelenting pain, that he has no job to which to return and that his family suffers from lack of income, the compassionate individual cannot help but be impacted. To protect the individual requires that we have the capacity to understand his plight and his options.

Some experts draw the distinction between “empathy” and “sympathy” in which empathy allows us to understand what the patient is experiencing while sympathy makes us suffer in equal measure. This is obviously arbitrary, and we tend to use the terms interchangeably.

Clearly, the suffering conveyed by the patient is extremely taxing. It can be haunting and eroding of our lives. We are of little value to ourselves, our families or the patient if we elect to carry these problems with us after we leave the office.

It is important to recognize that separating ourselves from their problems at the end of the day is not heartless. It is mandatory for our own emotional survival.

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