Politely Declining.


I’m a mental health therapist, and love my job. I’m a “therapist-generalist,” which means that while my primary focus is children, that I see all different types of clients with just about every disorder you can think of. Yes, it can be very stressful, as I hear horrible stories, secrets that only I know, and nightmares that people have to live with each day. However, the majority of my job is rewarding, as I also get to¬† hear the good things-how people overcome obstacles, how they’ve reached a goal, or how they were able to think of a situation differently in order to change it for the better. I love what I do, and love that I am able to do it. However, there are a few things that are more difficult than I ever thought they could be.

When I was in graduate school, one of the first things we were told was that we needed to be aware of what makes us uncomfortable. Therapists aren’t perfect people, and we have to know who make us uncomfortable and what situations we can’t handle very well. Of course, many of us discussed “oh, I could never work with a pedophile,” while others said “I can’t work with someone who raped a woman.” These are very general things that make many people uncomfortable, but our professor wanted us to dig deeper, even for the little things. When I began thinking about it more, I realized that I would have a difficult time working with someone who hurts animals.

Yes, my primary focus is working with children, specifically ages 4-18. I’ve worked with kids in therapeutic environments for a few years now, and am surprised that I’ve only truly heard one story of how a child liked to hurt animals. It shocked me that hearing those details hurt me more than hearing about abuse or molestation, and it made me feel like a bad person. Why did this hurt me more than anything else? Why did it hit me so hard?

I still haven’t found those answers, but I now see why our professor wanted us to dig deep, and figure out what was difficult for us to handle-if we are too involved, offended, or hurt by a story or situation, we lose our ability to help effectively. This brings me to today’s request.

One of our local humane societies wants someone from our organization to give a presentation regarding stress management, because so many of the workers are suffering from anxiety due to their positions. These people are hard-working individuals who love animals, but a difficult part of their job is making the decision to euthanize animals, each and every day. I can’t imagine what that would be like, or how difficult that burden must be. In fact, I can’t think about it too much, or my heart begins to hurt and I become tearful. When my boss asked me if I would be interested in presenting to this population, I had to say no.

I feel guilty, because I feel as if I’m unwilling to help. At the same time, I know that after the presentation would be over, there would likely be several questions. I would hear stories about animals who had been abused, those who “had to be put down because it was the humane thing to do.” As professional as I am and can be, I know that I wouldn’t be able to handle it. Those would be the stories that would haunt me, that I would come home with and dream about, and that’s why I had to say no.

It feels good to get this out, to explain my side of the story and to see if anyone had any thoughts. What would you do?