When I got into the private practice of psychotherapy I gradually joined the panels of the major insurance carriers and received a fairly steady stream of referrals of individuals who looked me up on their United or Aetna customer website. But a few years in I was approached by several providers about providing EAP or employee assistance counseling. I'm not sure how many employers offer this service today as a benefit, but until recently a number of major businesses made free counseling available for work related stress, usually between three and six sessions. If an EAP patient needed more than six sessions, I could roll them over into their own insurance plans which I honored.
The diagnostic challenge in the EAP brief mode was to determine whether (1) the patient has an existing condition that impacted the job performance, such as depression or substance abuse, or (2) the workplace environment was so dysfunctional that the conditions were impacting the psychological and physical health of the patient/employee. I might add here that over the years, I was an EAP provider for my own diocese--including clergy, Catholic school teachers, and catechists--as well as several county public school systems, along with cable companies and a score of others.
For the first group, treatment planning was standard enough—or as “standard” as it can be for dealing with the internal pain of the psyche. There are protocols for newly presented depressions that most practitioners follow, tailored to the specific need of the patient, who is thoroughly briefed on treatment options and participates in the treatment planning. The second group of EAP patients, those walking wounded from the work force, present a somewhat more perplexing set of challenges to therapists, given that there is a third party in the therapeutic process: the boss, management team, or corporate office. In my own career to some minor degree, and in the experiences of my patients, there are work settings that one can only call crazy.
Julie Jansen writes of “change resilience” (pp. 40-42) as an important characteristic of a professional, and I would agree, adding that in my opinion the turnover of church staff, including pastors, is becoming so prevalent that the phenomenon is worthy of investigation and clinical research. As an old friend told me recently, her parish gets a new pastor every two years. Years ago I would have called that an anomaly, but when teaching this fall I found that just about all the local faith formation directors I dealt with this year were not in their positions the year before. Just the issue of staff flux—let alone the pressures and dysfunctions that pressure people to seek change—is some indication of the measure of stress that church workers endure. How does a therapist treat that, or more importantly, how does a healthy minister/educator/catechist maintain sanity and pride of profession?
I think that part of the answer—a very large part—is what I would call ego strength. There are technical definitions in text books, of course, but I would stress the ownership of one’s skill set and beliefs. I do not have at my fingertips an excellent essay from the New York Times on the need for the working adult to view himself or herself as a valuable self-sufficient entity in the marketplace, a professional and/or artisan who invests in himself in terms of health, spirit, competency and value to society at large. Put another way, a Catholic educator is a Catholic educator, regardless of local setting, responsible to herself to cultivate her life above and beyond the minimal requirements of a diocese or other entity. This professional ego is developed early in life, and its enhancement over the years provides a critical eye and a stiff backbone that Jansen would describe as “change resilient.”
Catechists—and local DRE’s and faith formation directors who often are promoted to their positions directly from catechetical teaching responsibilities—often do not have an appropriate opportunity to develop a strong ministerial identity. My guess is that many new catechists follow their children into the religious education prep programs, and then to more stable positions within parish ministries. Typically they would not have bachelors or (better) master’s degrees in theology or religious education when pressed into parish ministerial leadership, nor the professional confidence that comes with collegiate training and something akin to internship experience. Or, in the vernacular, their limited experience does not empower them to say no to an unreasonable pastor, or better, to scope a future ministerial worksite and demand a precise job description signed by the employer as well as the minister.
Going back to EAP practice, I found that many of my clients in all settings remained in unhealthy work sites because their educational resumes did not, in their view, give them much desirability in the workforce and they were fearful of leaving their current jobs, stressful as they might be. “The devil you know…is better than nothing.” I cannot emphasize enough that parish ministers, including those we unhelpfully label as more casual “volunteers,” demand the highest level of professional and experiential preparation, as it is from this population that parishes often draw senior staff, and there is a special responsibility of parishes and dioceses to insure that it happens. In addition, the prospective or new catechist or minister must cultivate a professional pride and identity that insures their own confidence and competence. There is such a thing as Stage 4 cancer; I would maintain that there is also such a thing as Stage 4 Vocational Crisis and Career Confusion. The best medicine is to cut the risk factors of both.