My Crisis of Meaning (And What to Do When You Hit Yours)

Most Rehab Counsellors choose this career because they want to help people, pure and simple. 

So it makes sense that most of us go into this role with some pretty lofty expectations about what it means to be a Rehab Counsellor.

  • We want to help people find meaning. 
  • We want to help people get their lives back. 
  • We want to help people overcome adversity and do the stuff that matters. 

I actually think that these high expectations are what set so many Rehab Counsellors up to crash and burn. 

Burnout and turnover rates are pretty high in this industry - but is it our own fault?

Do we have unrealistic expectations about what this job really entails, and the difference we can make? 

Well... Yes. But also no. 

Let me explain. 

I present to you: The Roller Coaster Curve 

The roller coaster curve maps out my first year of being a rehab counsellor almost to a tee. 

Early on, we’ve got Uninformed Optimism. You’ll be in this stage if you:

  • Are considering becoming a rehab counsellor
  • Are studying to become one
  • Have just started your first job

At this point, everything about Rehab Counselling is AWESOME. You’re being sold ideas of helping people, collaborative work, creative problem solving and helping people reconnect with meaning and purpose. 

Everything Is AWESOME!!! in the Uninformed Optimism Stage.

It’s sunshine, puppy dogs, and total ignorant bliss. Good times. 

Our rollercoaster then chugs along to Stage 2: Informed Pessimism. 

Informed pessimism happens when you’ve been around the block a couple of times. 

  • Maybe you’ve had a client who had no desire to get better or treated you with disrespect.
  • Maybe you’ve had an experience at uni that left you underwhelmed.
  • Maybe you’ve become bogged down by unnecessary paperwork and red-tape that leaves you feeling frustrated and completely restricted

At this point, you’re feeling a little (or very) jaded.

Disillusioned, maybe, but still hopeful and ready to press on. 

And then…. comes the tipping point. 

Stage 3: The crisis of meaning. 

My crisis of meaning happened after a few months into my first job as a Rehab Counsellor. I was working with clients with really serious health issues and what felt like a lack of support and skills to actually help them. 

I was doubting myself, doubting my choices, and I dreaded going to work every day. I was ready to throw in the towel. 

The thing about the crisis of meaning is that it happens to nearly every Rehab Counsellor who cares about their job and wants to help people.

Why?

  1. Your studies will not and cannot prepare you for what it’s like to have a real, live complex and confusing human being in front of you. 
  2. Add on those lofty expectations we spoke about earlier - like changing people’s lives and helping them find meaning and purpose - and it’s no wonder we find ourselves in a crisis. 

I’m not saying this to scare you or deter you - I’m saying this so that you know that you’re not crazy if you’ve ever felt this way too. 

And I’m saying it so that you can give yourself a break and put down your superhero cape for a minute. 

Not every client who comes to you will be a good fit. And not every client will be receptive to your desire to help. 

You can’t change everyone’s life - but the impact you can make in this job is still so, so real. 

For every client who has been a total nightmare to work with, there’s been another who has thanked me for how I helped them. 

For every time that I wanted to smack my head into a wall out of frustration, there have been times when I’ve been floored by the amazing, intelligent and hardworking people I’ve encountered in this job. 

Your crisis of meaning will still probably come - but whether you crash and burn or pull through is up to you. 

The people who crash and burn forget that every job has it’s sucky moments.

Even people like Mark Manson, who makes a living out of writing awesome things every day, feel this way:

“I am living my dream job…. and I still hate about 30% of it. Some days more.”

So… what are we to do? Do we give up on the idea of helping people?

Nooooooooooo. Please don’t do that. 

But what if we stopped expecting so much of ourselves? 

I think Paul Jarvis is on to something here: 

“I think what’s better is that we just find a place where we can make a difference. And, making a difference is fairly easy. First, you just have to leave things better than you found them. Second, you have to leave yourself better than when you started.”

I really want to emphasise the second part. Making a difference isn’t about running yourself into the ground - and you absolutely, completely, and totally have the power to decide whether you’re going to let this happen. 

Much of it is about the mind shift involved in seeing yourself as a facilitator rather than an expert.

It’s also about being able to clarify expectations and vouch for yourself, like we explore in the Survival Guide

And if you’re in a crisis of meaning right now (or maybe just feeling a little bit grumpy today), here are some questions to ask yourself: 

  • How can I look after myself today?
  • What can I do that excites me?
  • What small win can I tick off by the end of the day? (cleaning your desk TOTALLY counts, by the way.)

You might like to check out something I’ve written earlier about self-care, too. 

And remember that you’re not the only one who has felt this way. In fact, there’s a whole heap of us behind the scenes reading the Able-Minded newsletter, which you can sign up for at the end of this post.

OK, over to you:

How do you look after yourself when you’ve had a bad day (or week, or month)? 

 
 

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Feature image by J. Nathan Matias is licensed under CC by 2.0.