"It seems we’re still committed to the lie that people enter the healing and helping professions for altruistic reasons or some higher calling. Let me be clear: I’m here because I’m overcoming mental illness and trauma," Jim LaPierre writes. Credit: Stock photo / Pexels

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If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, call the Maine Crisis Hotline at 888-568-1112.

There are many natural progressions when you love your life’s work. Ultimately, many of us seek to more mindfully create a legacy.

By day, I’m a mental health therapist. I moonlight as an adjunct instructor at a local university. It’s one of the many ways in which I get to share what I’ve learned. I get to invest in young people by teaching counseling skills to those entering the mental health, medical and human services fields.

My biggest concern is their overall wellbeing.

My most recent cause for concern sat in the front row and interrupted me frequently. There was something oddly endearing about her. My initial impression was, “anal-retentive and excessively concerned with getting an A in my class.” The more the semester unfolded, the more I saw her. She’s an eight-year-old girl with abusive parents in the body of a 21-year-old college student.

She’s drawn to the healing and helping professions for the same reason I was: Nobody helped her.

Somehow, she’s made it through four years of college and no one spotted the obvious. This young woman attended at least 35 classes before she arrived in mine. No one noticed the nails that are bitten down to nothing and the surrounding skin that’s chewed? Nobody noticed her painfully thin body or hollow cheeks? No one noticed her avoidance of eye contact or her self-soothing mannerisms?

It seems no one sat her down and said, “Listen, you’re a wonderful young lady. Have you ever considered receiving support for your mental health?” I wonder if anyone urged her to seek out her primary care provider to discuss nutrition and the possibility of an eating disorder. Do we assume that people who attend college have food security or do we connect them with local food cupboards?

It seems we’re still committed to the lie that people enter the healing and helping professions for altruistic reasons or some higher calling. Let me be clear: I’m here because I’m overcoming mental illness and trauma.

If you’re going to make your living by walking into other people’s darkest days for a living, then learning to take excellent care of yourself is a must. All of us know that self-care is vital, yet few of us practice it. The work we do in the healing and helping professions is more vital today than it’s ever been and the degree to which we’re looking out for each other needs to rise correspondingly.

There are lessons and scars that unite us. We need to stop pretending that they’re hard to see. The only things that are up for grabs: Do we teach with our eyes open? Are we willing to acknowledge what we see and help our future colleagues before they get into the field?

Some of us hide well, some of us don’t. Either way, if you’re afraid to approach us, then we don’t fall through cracks — we get swallowed up in chasms. Are we gatekeepers for our professions?

I implore my students to seek mentors who are both successful and genuine. I explain that I don’t do anything professionally for less than 10 times what I earn as an adjunct instructor. I teach because I want ripple effects the size of tsunamis. I seek to inspire greatness in the healing and helping professions.

I teach because I burned out a dozen times professionally before I got it right. I teach because I am training people like me to help people like me (the mentally ill, the addicted, the survivors). I teach because I get to give something that will live beyond me.

The unifying experiences among us are traumatic in nature. We come from families of active addiction. We come from abusive and neglectful parents. We come to these fields because we feel broken and yet instead of attending to our own wounds, we seek to promote the healing of others.

Learning about trauma recovery is a career-altering and potentially life-altering experience. My hope is that more disciplines will require it or, at the very least, make it available as a highly recommended elective. My hope is to evoke more conversations and greater collaboration. In the midst of everything the world is experiencing, the need for high-quality healers is greater than ever.

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Jim LaPierre, Contributor

Jim LaPierre, a licensed social worker, is a recovery and LGBTQ ally, trauma therapist, and the director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer. He invites you to connect with him at counseling@roadrunner.com.