Why civil servants need therapy - Humantold
Why civil servants need therapy

Why civil servants need therapy

Danielle Louis, LMHC September 28, 2023

You’re the backbone of society...and that's a heavy load to carry!

Before beginning a conversation about how civil servants can benefit from therapy, it is essential to clarify what this means in the United States, and friends – the definition is broad yet simple – they are individuals who are employed by a public sector of the government. However, that varies anywhere from an attorney to a paramedic, from the United States Postal Service to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and from a civil engineer to an Environmental Health and Services specialist or a construction inspector. If I were to list every job, this would go on for at least 40 pages and you would stop reading – but if you are reading this, you’re more than likely aware of what these titles entail or love someone who does. Civil servants answer to the government and stay in roles throughout any shifting of political or structural changes. In New York City alone, there are over 300,000 civil servants who make the city tick.

So, before we reach the point where you read this and dismiss the idea of therapy, my dear and hardworking civil servant friend, I want to assure you that this is coming from a former public servant who understands how taboo this topic can be in many of your career fields. So, please, stay with me and explore a path that might help you feel like you can pause for a moment and breathe again. Oh, there's the first reason why therapy might be needed – you are overworked and quite possibly (more than likely) underappreciated! And this can significantly impact both your mental and physical health.

The civil servant: A challenging profession, to say the least

When considering the varying nature of these numerous jobs, what we can surmise is the fact that they are demanding, time-consuming, and often fast-paced jobs. Vacation time might be limited, pay might not be ideal, change is a constant, boundaries frequently go unrespected, outdated hierarchies prove problematic, and overall, you choose these jobs because of your genuine passion – fully aware that they might not always offer the highest financial rewards. You hold a life, perhaps even a family, along with hopes and dreams, and maybe – at certain times – you find yourself questioning the wisdom of your decision to serve in the public sector. Please know, you're not alone. The APA recently conducted a workplace study that reported that 26% of government employees identify their workplace as a toxic environment. Furthermore, the well-known Whitehall Study on British civil servants demonstrates a robust correlation between lower-level positions in the civil service and chronic heart conditions, as well as high mortality rates – a phenomenon termed "status syndrome" during the study's inception. However, the undeniable truth in these findings highlights various discrepancies that lead to significant harm, be it due to classism, racism, structural systems, or a lack of support.

How therapy can help civil servants

So, why might therapy be crucial for civil servants? Because these issues are deeply systemic, requiring years to dismantle. Throughout this process, you endure mistreatment, lack of support, confusion, dread, and both mental and physical consequences – none of which anyone should have to face alone.

Frequently, being a civil servant brings about a sense of being trapped and experiencing tunnel vision regarding the objectives dictated by the system or management. As a result, you may lose sight of your values and how to prioritize self-care. 

This year the Surgeon General released the “Five Workplace Essentials” for a healthy workplace: 

  1. Protection from harm
  2. Connection and community
  3. Work-life harmony
  4. Mattering at work
  5. Opportunity for growth 

How many of those can you identify with? I know in my past career as a civil servant, I felt very few of these, and at times none of these. I felt alone, ashamed, embarrassed, and stigmatized. And then I found my journey with therapy, and the rest is history. I share this personal story with you because you matter and sometimes your job doesn’t make you feel that way. Our job as therapists is to provide you with the tools to best cope and understand how to get through the unfair work requirements, to challenge the status quo with the right skills and communication practice, to help you shed the internalized belief that your job matters more than you, and to overall guide you in how to best stay effective at your job while living in a place of peace, truth, and maybe even help you to advocate for better treatment. 

My friend, your hard work is evident, and you may have even made sacrifices – birthdays of loved ones, vacations, holidays, and dates – all for the sake of your job. There have likely been moments when you've walked away thinking, "That's it, I'm done." But then that feeling of being stuck sets in – "What else am I trained for?" or "How will I manage my bills?" Your job, despite efforts to promote fair treatment, often lets you down and fosters a sense of inadequacy. Therapy is here to remind you that you're not a failure – that you're capable, compassionate, and resilient. 

You can encompass multiple qualities simultaneously. It's OK to love your job, which involves saving lives, while despising the system. You can acknowledge the desire to transition from your current role while fearing the uncertainties it might bring. You might aspire to be more emotionally present in your personal life yet worry about how it might impact your effectiveness at work. But, my friend, we're here to guide you through life's "Yes/And" scenarios.

How to get started with therapy

The good news is that APA reports some positive trends in workplace treatment, but as I stated before, changing the system takes time. Let us help you find peace and happiness along the way to change. Because your life isn’t just about serving others; it’s about recognizing your worth, too. When you’re ready to embark, our team of therapists is here to support you on the journey. 

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