Seven Key Points For A New Therapist Having Panic Attacks

Boy oh boy, do I relate to this question. It’s from a new intern in Marriage and Family Therapy, working to complete her full accreditation.  

She reports that, seemingly out of nowhere, she began having episodes of anxiety and panic, without any apparent triggers that she can identify. She loves her work. 

Fortunately, she responds really well to guided imagery, and hopefully some of the suggestions I make here will resonate with her. I think it’s easy to lose sight of how hard it is to be new at this work, especially if you’re a responsible sort who wants to do right by the people in your care who are suffering. Please read on!

Question

Dear Belleruth, 

I just wanted to drop a note to let you know how much your Panic Attacks audio program has helped me.  Your voice and way with words are the only thing that has brought me real relief.

I am still trying to figure out why I have developed panic/anxiety with seemingly no trigger. I am a MFTI (Marriage and Family Therapy Intern) at the moment and I love this work, but I also feel this is part of the reason my anxiety has cropped up. 

Because you have so many audio programs I could listen to, I was wondering which you'd recommend for me. I already have your Panic Attack, Healthful Sleep, and just recently got Stress Relief

I'm considering the Healing Trauma one or the Intuition one, considering I'm working on my trusting my own voice. 

I'm not even sure you're able to answer my question, but I'd happily give you more info if you need it. 

Anyways, I just wanted to connect after I heard your podcast with McPherson. Thank you so much for helping me all those moments when I felt so helpless.  

Rachel

Answer

Glad it was a help, Rachel. Thanks for writing.

There could be many reasons for the panic to surface - the good news is, you don't need to know why it's there to remediate it. You just need some good tools and techniques to interrupt it so it can't go on to take on a life of its own.  

Sometimes, it just runs in families - there's a genetic component, as I'm sure you know.  

Sometimes it's trauma related... not necessarily a single, dramatic, Perils of Pauline type incident in your history, but perhaps an accumulation.  

But given what you’ve shared here, the most likely thing going on is that you’re a brand new marriage and family therapy intern; you’re hearing and seeing a lot of distress and tough situations. You want to do a good job, and you’re feeling the full weight of responsibility for people who are trusting in you for help. That’s enough to put a whole bunch of people in a very anxious state. 

But here’s what I think: you haven’t been at this long enough to know in your bones that 

  • this too will get resolved, one way or the other; 
  • it’s really not all up to you – responsibility is shared; just be present, listen with an open heart, and let that guide your part of the process;
  • you don’t have to absorb all their pain in order to understand and help your clients – you can do that without taking it all in;  
  • you probably do have enough skill and know-how to do whatever needs doing to clarify and help resolve even the nastiest situation - perfection is not required.  And newbies somehow make up for what they don’t yet know with their passionate desire to help. 
  • even though a family system is intimidatingly powerful and hard to break into, once you do intervene with a whole family, your chances for positive change are far greater than just working individually, so it’s worth the aggravation and stress to be doing what you’re doing.
  • everyone feels this way at this stage of their professional growth; 
  • you can envision, sense and feel invisible forces in the room with you, to help and guide you.

I would also recommend that if you aren’t getting enough support through the clinical supervision you’re already getting for your accreditation, go out and buy some more! If you don’t know anyone, I can suggest some people you can FaceTime with.

In the meantime, I do recommend the Healing Trauma imagery or the Self-Confidence imagery.  

Sure hope this helps some.  Wishing you the best.  Please send a status report when you have time!
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Belleruth

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