DEAR ABBY: I recently graduated with a master's degree in counseling psychology. I have worked in the mental health field since I was 22. I am now 28. I have always somewhat enjoyed my work and was sure that once I furthered my education, the jobs would become more challenging and enjoyable. However, while doing my internship for this degree, I began to realize I don't truly enjoy working with people.
I have sought therapy for the past two years, but never seem to be able to figure out what I really want to do with my life. I'm scared that I lack the compassion to be a therapist, but the guilt that goes along with accepting this notion is enormous -- especially since my husband and I moved to a new city just for me to get my degree.
I am working as a therapist and am very unhappy in my job. I would even go so far as to say that I dislike the clients with whom I am working. Part of me feels it is my ethical obligation to leave this job before I inadvertently hurt someone, but another part of me is scared to try something new because I have school loans and other living expenses to pay. Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated. -- UNHAPPY THERAPIST IN COLORADO
DEAR UNHAPPY: You have written a very frank letter. It is time to stop beating yourself up and to consider what your other options are. Your resentment of your patients could be early career burnout, or have more to do with your frustration about yourself than anything to do with them. Whatever is at the root of it, you'll be doing them -- and yourself -- a favor if you take a break from counseling for a while.
Many universities offer career counseling and aptitude testing; check with your own. Alternatively, go to the public library to research trade publications and newspapers, and discover how you can apply the skills you have learned to fields other than counseling. Don't be afraid to think outside the box. Whether the change is temporary or permanent, it'll help you to center yourself again regarding how you should contribute to society.