The Emotional Journey of a Psychologist – Child Life Services

by Dr. Sushma Gopalan

It is not easy being a psychologist, let alone a Child Life Specialist. Let us face it, when you think of a psychologist, you imagine someone who has mastered all emotions and knows and understands not just about themselves, but reasons for other behaviours too. True, but the underlying fact is, we are humans too. 

It is imperative to understand that just like others, we too face stress, loss, personal and professional struggles. Especially, when you are a Child Life Specialist, there is emotional exhaustion, compassion fatigue and burn out. We are exposed to high intensity, stressful, traumatic situations as well as issues of grief and loss. In addition to this, the risk of burn out is more due to the workload, emotional upheavals, and limited understanding of the child life role by other professionals.

In cases of psychological assistance, there are also cases where a child or family who is unwilling, unable, or not at all motivated to try in getting better by taking an initiative to change their ideas, thoughts, feelings, and behaviour that may lead to mental health challenges. These situations cannot be helped by even the most skilled psychologists. Situations where one knows what or how to do, but unable to do so leads to feeling helpless and frustrated.

A point to note, when we talk about the challenges we face, it is not to complain, but just to show the other side of the coin too. It is an extremely fulfilling role. We go back home every day knowing we have made a difference in a child’s and a family’s life! It is an everyday battle, where we armour up every day feeling like warriors and then when we see those vulnerable faces, crumple up inside and rise to do the best we can against all our inherent emotions.

We transfer all our positive energy taking in their negatives so that we leave their rooms better than it was when we walked in. Every family is connected to, and every child is interacted with. No matter what the procedure, what the situation, we are the silent support system who make them feel that they are not alone in the battle, big or small! And it is not just the child who is cared for, but the entire family too.

Child Life Services represent a very small portion in the bigger picture of healthcare system. But is a role that mandates considerable emotional energy and staunch advocacy for families. Because this is one space which aims at helping children and families do much better comprehensively! As WHO rightly said, "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity".