941-462-4807 meg@megyounglcsw.com

calm, peace Being a probation or parole officer is a thankless job. The clients you work with are not the most upstanding citizens in the country and often it feels like you are chasing your tail trying to keep up with all of them. Add to that the stress of the paperwork and management within your company, and it can lead to burnout, frustration, and displeasure very quickly.
When we have a job that includes a cohesive unit, burnout is still a real possibility. The job takes a huge toll on us. However, when our unit is not cohesive, it compounds the stress of the job, affecting our lives in numerous ways. We start to dislike going to work, we start to feel more apathetic about our job, we start to be more irritable with our clients. We start to bring the work home and our families start to feel the stress. We start to notice it in our bodies with increased ailments, more sick days (even when we really aren’t sick; just need a day away).
The problems with burnout include what happens to us physically and in our relationships, but it also causes a great deal of emotional stress. We start to feel more jaded about our job. We become more sarcastic or insensitive. We feel all of this in our body as well as our body holds a great deal of stress. We are more tired, have less energy, appetite changes, more body aches, more stomach aches and headaches.
Not only does living this way affect us, but it affects our loved ones. Just like you are harboring the stress of your job, your loved ones are harboring your stress. You might see changes in your kid’s behavior. You might hear your spouse tell you things have changed. Your spouse might even be more irritable with you.
A recently closed client of mine, “Peter,” came to me because his wife said if he doesn’t seek help, she will take the kids and leave. At the time he felt very misunderstood. “Doesn’t she understand what I am going through? Doesn’t she get that my job is miserable but I stay because we need the income?” Unfortunately, all this did for him was make the rift between them worse. As he was not hearing her and looking at how the stress was impacting their relationship and their kids, she was feeling more and more distant from him.
Eventually, Peter decided to come to therapy. Although at the time he started with me he did not think there was anything wrong with him, he still came weekly. He felt awkward and unsure coming into a therapist’s office. After a few visits, we transitioned to online counseling (read more about online therapy in this blog). Which helped him feel more comfortable and in control thus we were able to do some very good work together.
The truth is, it is completely normal for probation and parole officers to feel stressed about their job. Many struggle with admitting there is a problem until it is too late. Many have their families tell them seek help or else. Even if you haven’t gotten to this place yet, you are reading this blog because you think “maybe” there is something going on that you need some help with.
Peter denied there was a problem for a long time. Even when he first started coming to me he blamed it all on work and didn’t look at his own behaviors, words, and emotional states. At this point you may not be sure if you need therapy either. You may not be sure that there truly is a problem. However, when we see others overcome something similar, it can inspire us to make the changes we need to achieve satisfaction, peace, and joy in life and in your career. When we take similar steps, it is entirely possible to bring back the feelings of satisfaction and pride in the work you do.
Keep reading to see how one parole officer increased his pleasure in his life and career today.
Before scheduling his first session, Peter’s life was completely out of sync. He was feeling misunderstood and unsupported. He didn’t think there was anything wrong with his behaviors; after all, they were justified as he was so stressed out. Wouldn’t anyone feel and act like him in this situation?
He often found himself feeling irritable – at himself, at his co-workers, at his boss, just thinking of going to work, and more often getting irritable at his wife and even his children. He continued to put the blame elsewhere, which is something many of us do. It is very hard to see that whereas xyz is going on, we don’t have to act in a way that pushes others away. Often we don’t even see ourselves pushing others away. Once it starts, we often feel defensive as it is the issue of work, not issue of my behavior.
Living with this irritability impacted Peter’s ability to enjoy his time away from work with his family. He was more and more disgruntled and thus struggled to let it go more and more. The worse it got, the less he enjoyed his “free time.” The less he enjoyed his free time, the more his wife saw his attitude change. This started a very difficult hole for Peter to get out of.
Peter said that his wife had always been very supportive of him. So when she started complaining about his attitude and behavior shift, he felt very hurt. His relationship was no longer the solid foundation that helped him through his stress. He believed he couldn’t go to her anymore for support.
As he decided he couldn’t get support from her, his other relationships started to deteriorate. He stopped hanging out with his friends – who wants to hang around with someone who complains anyway? He didn’t enjoy his time with them anymore anyway.
As noted above, right before he scheduled a session, Peter’s wife gave him an ultimatum…either get help, or she is leaving with the kids. Peter felt so betrayed by this. First his job was super stressful, then his supportive wife was becoming less supportive of him, then he stopped enjoying things and people so much – his life was spiraling down – and now his wife is threatening to leave?
After stewing on his anger for a short while, Peter made the call. His life was in shambles, and all because of a job and a situation he has no control over. But he knew that this was the only way to make his wife stay.
When Peter arrived to the first session, he expressed his annoyance over the whole situation and how unfair it felt to him. While we completed the assessment, getting to know his needs and what brought him to me, we explored a timeline of what happened including things he had control over and things he didn’t have control over.
By the time he left that session, he still did not feel convinced that therapy would help him, but was open to coming back for a second session. He was intrigued enough with what he heard and learned in that session that curiosity opened him up for another session.
As we continued therapy, Peter knew he needed help with letting stress go on a very regular basis as it built up in him so quickly every day. We created a treatment plan to address stress management techniques. We did a lot of educational work to help Peter understand the stress response in the body and normalize his feelings and even his behaviors.
By the time Peter left that session he felt eager to come back again. What he was going through was normal and could even be expected if stress isn’t handled effectively regularly. He was not alone in this and was not crazy. He had a plan to get his family and even his life back, even if he didn’t have control over everything in his life.
When Peter and I sat down to work together, we would spend a few minutes going over any questions or concerns that came up between sessions. I always gave him time during the session to vent his frustrations as he needed an outlet for it.
We identified several techniques that will help with stress management, the barriers to using them, and the ways to overcome those barriers. We did a lot of education on stress and stress management because like most people, Peter did not understand the role of the stress response and how to turn it off.
Peter attended weekly and started to feel more and more human. He started to get excited to come to therapy and teach his wife the skills he was learning. He found that by including her in his practice by telling her what he learned as well as why and how the skills work, it kept him more accountable to doing the skills on a very regular basis.
Peter said he knew things were getting better because his wife was talking to him more and not complaining as much. He didn’t yet see a difference in his behaviors, but often others see things in us before we do. Furthermore, the skills he was using were shown to be effective in calming the stress response, which means his reactions will be different as he will not be as stressed out.
When I practice with clients like Peter, I like to use a mix of modalities. EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) is an amazing technique to help reprocess old memories so they do not affect you today. However, some people have to be convinced of this because it is seems a little silly. It works amazingly and even Peter was astounded at the effects!
I also like to use a lot of education with people like Peter as there is a lot of misunderstanding and mis-expectations on both the stress response and the effects of the skills to reduce the stress response.
I use a great deal of homework at the beginning as a metaphor I use frequently is “if you practice baseball one hour per week you’ll get better (like therapy), but if you practice baseball 6 hours per day, 7 days per week, you get better much quicker.” Use the skills 200 times per day…Yes, 200.
After a few weeks of therapy, it was obvious Peter was starting to feel better. We transitioned to online therapy as that worked very well for him within his schedule. The cool thing about the online work with Peter is because he was at home, he felt even more comfortable and thus made progress even quicker!
Peter started seeing improvement in his attitude at work as well as noticing that he would agree to get togethers with friends again. He saw his relationship strengthen with his wife as she started practicing the skills with him daily! They even brought the kids in on the use of skills daily and it became part of their evening routine!
Peter knew he was ready to end therapy because he no longer had time for me. He was so engaged in his world and his life that he felt almost put out that he had to come (online did make it easier for him to show up)! Each of those last few sessions, Peter was excited to tell me about how things were going, but at the same time said he had nothing he needed help with this week and wanted to get back to what he was doing.
We did a last session to address ways to stay on the sidewalk – my other favorite metaphor is “when we change a behavior, it is like walking on the curb. It is very easy to fall off and takes a lot of effort to pay attention to staying on the curb. After some time, we move away from the curb, but can still see the road. If we don’t pay attention to where we’re walking, we drift and end up off the sidewalk in the road.” We have to always pay attention to ourselves. It is very easy to fall back into old behaviors (or new unhelpful ones).
Our final session was ensuring Peter felt comfortable noticing when he was drifting towards the curb so he could bring himself back to walking a healthy line on the sidewalk and maintain his passion for his life, job, and family.
Although you struggle with anxiety and feeling like you are in a dark pit, you have the potential to feel good about yourself again. Now that you have seen what is possible for Peter and other clients I work with, you know you are not alone in this struggle. There is a possibility for you to also have no time for therapy because you are enjoying life.
You have the opportunity to grab life by the horns and pull yourself up. Be the person you know you are and want to get back.
Achieving this passion and excitement for life and your career after the stress response has been activated for so long may feel like a long shot right now, but it is easier and closer than you think. You absolutely can find the enthusiasm for life. Meg Young, LCSW helps people just like you, and specializes in our critical care givers – first responders (including 911 dispatchers), medical professionals (including therapists), and court professionals (including probation/parole and corrections officers).
Choose strength and call me today to get started on your journey back to a stimulating life and career! 941-462-4807.