Newcomers to care, especially mental health care often believe that they not only can but actually will ‘save the world’. They genuinely expect that their winning personality, supported only by a nice smile, a cup of tea and a chocolate digestive will solve every psychological problem there is. They’re the saviours and their naivety puts everyone at risk.
Most of us grow out of such expectations early on in our careers. We may have begun wanting to save the world but now we just want the world to go away and leave us alone. We’ve had the naivety of inexperience kicked, beaten or otherwise drummed out of us in no uncertain terms and we’ve learned that we can only do so much in our little corner of the system. We knuckle down, get good at our particular task or set of tasks and keep that original, positive spark of enthusiasm alive with realistic expectations and the ability to take delight in smaller successes.
But some people never grow out of their saviour fantasy. They never overcome the innocence that may well have led them into the job but that also makes them beat themselves up every day because they haven’t yet fixed everything. They may not show it often but these overgrown saviours are racked with guilt because of the impossible task they set themselves. If you’re one of these saviours please read on…
It’s pension day and Mary, a kindly octogenarian toddles out of her local post office clutching a wad of notes in her gloved hand. She never did manage to catch up with all that modern internet banking nonsense and has always been a little suspicious of computers managing her affairs. ‘That’s what cheque books and cash are for’, she reasons. Her handbag hangs nonchalantly from her elbow as she fishes in the apparently inexhaustible, portable cavern for her purse.
Suddenly – two young thugs come dashing toward her. One snatches the cash, knocking Mary to the ground as he does so. The second stamps on her head for good measure, causing bright red blood to stream from her ear onto the pavement.
You run to her, screaming at passers-by to call an ambulance as you cradle the unconscious old lady in your arms. You feel helpless and angry as she breathes her last, still held tight in your embrace. You’re angry but you’re not guilty. You tried to help, after all. You never caused this and at least you had a go, unlike the rest of society who seem only able to cross the road and look the other way.
Mental health care’s like that. We didn’t cause the problems our patients have developed. Often it took them years to become this ill. That’s not your fault and you’re not to blame. At least you’re trying to help!
Beware the saviour fantasy