The HSP World Podcast Ep: 22: Highly Sensitives In the Helping Professions
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Thomas: Hi and welcome to the HSP World Podcast. With each episode, we invite a guest with the HSP Trait to have a conversation about a burning HSP-related question they have. We’re not coaches or therapists. We’re HSPs holding space with you. I’m one of your hosts Thomas, and your other hosts are;
Rayne: and Rayne.
Robyn: Welcome back everybody to another episode of the HSP World Podcast. With us today, we have Andy. Hi, Andy.
Andy: Hi Robyn.
Robyn: How are you doing?
Andy: I’m pretty good. Yeah. It’s a nice day where I am. And so I’m, I’m feeling good.
Robyn: That’s good to hear. Thanks for joining us. Maybe you can get us started by mentioning a little bit about your HSP story, how you found out about having the Trait?
Andy: Sure. But before I do, I just would like to, well, say hi to Rayne and Thomas and disclose that I’m really happy to be on this podcast that I’ve listened to so many times. So thank all of you for this podcast.
Thomas: It’s great to have you, Andy.
Andy: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. So yeah, my highly sensitive journey, uh, began about five years ago when a friend of mine asked had I heard of the Highly Sensitive Trait, and I hadn’t. So she loaned me a book, the Elaine Aron book, which I promptly thumbed through and went, no, this is not for me.
But the ideas did percolate. Yeah. I, I really had that reaction of like what, I’m not sensitive, how dare you! But I did let the ideas percolate. They kind of stuck in the back of my mind. So when, about three months ago, another friend brought up the idea again, I considered it. And I took the quiz, which I aced, and realized, yes, I am a Highly Sensitive person.
And I realized the many ways that, yeah, understanding this Trait and viewing my past and present life through these new HSP lenses is really helpful. So there’s a little bit of my HSP journey.
Robyn: Cool! It’s funny, we don’t usually mention that, you know, this kind of adverse reaction that you could have to first finding out that, or first hearing the suggestion that you’re Highly Ssensitive. But now I do remember to be honest, that was my first reaction when someone sent me a quiz and we’re like, Hey, maybe this applies to you. It’s like, what do you mean? So, uh, it does, it does happen sometimes. How far we’ve all come. Right? Andy, can you let us know what your question is today?
Andy: Yeah, my, my question, my burning-HSP question is how does this Trait affect someone who is training to be, or is already in a helping profession? I, myself, trained to be a Music Therapist. And so my life is sort of equal parts, helping professional and musician, which yeah, as it turns out is, uh, as I learned more about the HSP Trait is, is a really good fit.
So yeah, that’s my question is how does this Trait, can it be helpful for, and can it perhaps provide challenges to someone in the helping profession?
Thomas: So a helping profession is, coaches, therapists… What else?
Andy: So I’m thinking of helping professions as anyone in a career that provides health, whether that be psychological, physical, emotional, spiritual, so that, you know, a therapist, a social worker, doctor, nurse, pretty, pretty wide ranging definition for helping professional.
Thomas: Great. Thank you. Thank you for that.
Rayne: That’s a great question, Andy.
Robyn: It’s a nice extension of a theme that you’ll see come up a lot for HSPs. There’s all sorts of forums and articles about like, what are the best and worst professions for HSPs? And I think most of those forums and articles come to the conclusion that there is no one job that is best suited to an HSP.
There are some that would probably be unequivocally difficult, but you know, even things that you wouldn’t expect, like, like being a sales person or something, under the right conditions, those can be good for, for HSPs. So yeah, I think the bigger question is, you know, what, what it is in each profession and in this case helping professions that would be suited to an HSP.
And, how does the profession itself, and then also the current form that it’s taking. How did, how is that, you know, better or worse for HSPs? I think Elaine Aron, I think it may actually be in the HSP, the workbook for HSPs, where she talks about how ironically, a lot of the professions that should you know, on paper seem just tailor made for an HSP, like any of the helping professions, and other human-oriented professions like teaching, or maybe even HR.
Things that would be ideal for an HSP given current iterations of it, either just systemic realities, educational or licensing demands, things like that, or the pace, and the volume of work that some people might be given.
Ironically, a lot of these professions now are not great for HSPs. So I think that’ll be one distinction that could be helpful to make is like, there’s the job and then there’s all the conditions surrounding the job.
Thomas: Robyn, you’re speaking to overwhelm.
Robyn: Yeah. In part it could be. It could be values as well. Right? Like I know that’s something that comes up sometimes in discussions of HR, but I wonder, I don’t know if it would be relevant in the helping professions too. But sometimes, you know, well, yeah, I think maybe I’ve heard social worker friends say this a lot.
Maybe it’s values, but also even tasks and priorities. They’ll say, okay, I went into this profession to help people and I spend most of the time doing paperwork, you know? So that would be one thing to consider, another thing.
Andy: I think if I can just share a bit about what has been helpful about understanding this Trait and how it fits with my current profession and what’s been challenging.
I find that I have an easier time than others empathizing with people and seeing them and… so that I think is what drew me into the helping profession.
And the way that translates and music therapy is I use music as a tool to connect with people in therapeutic relationships. And so that’s the really easy part. And the part that has recently become challenging is that, I sort of… I’m, I’m tending to over-empathize and, and give too much of myself and not be able to put up boundaries.
So, yeah, it’s almost as if, you know, if I could turn the switch on the HSP Trait off and go, okay, I, I used it today and it was very helpful for me, but now it’s, you know, I’m home at I’ve, I’ve come home from work and I, I need to be able to stop empathizing for that client whose uh, yeah. Am I making sense here?
Rayne: Totally. Yeah, I was, I was gonna say, I think the helping professions are something that HSPs can be drawn to. But I also feel like if an HSP hasn’t recognized that they have the Trait and then of course, done the work on learning how to create healthy boundaries for themselves. Because they’ll be different for each as HSP, it’s something they have to work out for themselves. Right?
Then I think things like what you’re describing Andy, that’s, that’s kind of the stuff that happens where you can’t put it down. You, you know, you keep thinking about it or you keep, um, basically you’re, over-identifying with what you’re picking up from the person when, when you’re helping them. Right?
So you know, to the point where, like you said, you can’t turn it off. Right? And that’s where I think having healthy boundaries allow, you know, it not only helps you, but it also helps them because, you know, being overly empathetic, then that’s, in a way, that it’s not honouring that person’s journey, because while it may seem to you like, Oh, that would just be so hard to overcome and you know, all that kind of stuff. Well, that could be something you’re not even aware that you’re projecting onto them too. Right?
Rayne: So it’s kinda, it’s kind of like honouring, it’s honouring their journey and where, you know, the things they need to learn, like, it may seem like it’d be super difficult to you and you don’t know how they’d do it, but, it’s not necessarily true, you know, people, people can do some amazing things, you know?
Andy: A large part of my training was around boundary development and setting appropriate boundaries.
And I would look at my others in my cohort setting, very healthy, appropriate boundaries with almost, it seemed like there was no effort involved and I would go, what? You know, how do you, how do you do that? This is so challenging for me and I, now that I can see my past experiences through this HSP lens go, I think that’s part of why it was so challenging for me. So good, good idea Rayne.
Rayne: Yeah. Cause, you know, we tend to think that, Oh, you know, people who don’t have the Trait how can they be so unsympathetic or, you know, uncompassionate or not have empathy for this, that, or the other. And that that may be true to an, you know, to a degree because we do pick up on a lot more in terms of body language and different things like that.
But at the same time, I guess it’s such a benefit for us in that way, but in another way, there is that added sort of feature that we do have to learn and practice that, you know, setting healthy boundaries and, not only for us, but also as a way of honouring the other person and what they want to do and how they want to grow and that they’re capable of it.
And, you know, all that kind of thing. Some of that stuff can go back to, you know, how you were raised, in your own patterning, right? And not be too much about that person, that that person may be showing you something that’s unhealed in yourself. That you know, which that in itself is a gift, because it’s like, Oh, this is why this is, is staying with me because this is something I haven’t addressed.
I haven’t worked through this. There’s more to learn from this for me, you know? So it’s, so it’s not so much about the other person, it’s about what you can learn because that in itself is honoring the other person. Just my thought. What do you think Thomas?
Thomas: Well, I can definitely reflect what you’re saying in terms of learning about yourself because I definitely can feel with someone. I know I have that empathy in me, but boy, I have a tough time expressing that empathy on a verbal level on it, you know, connecting. And that’s something that I realized not too long ago, I was like, I suck at empathy.
Well, I suck at expressing empathy. I have it inside me. And what I know is when I was growing up, because of my sensitivity, I was so shut down verbally that I didn’t create the verbal language around how to express empathy with other people. So there’s definitely that understanding of yourself and understanding like you can be empathetic in your heart, and really, really struggle when it comes to verbalizing and expressing and connecting with other people.
So that’s definitely been a challenge for me, in terms of getting to a point where I’m, where I’m comfortable. And now understanding more about the HSP Trait has really helped me understand where that all comes from.
Andy: Wow, Thomas, this is not the first time I’ve had this thought listening to you speak about your past, understanding of how the Trait has affected you. But I think we we’ve had similar journeys.
I also felt growing up, like I, you know, I had this latent, empathy, but until I have really in the last five years, gotten to know myself better and become more comfortable expressing that empathy, in ways outside, you know, it used to be all through music and, and a really insular journey.
And, and now I’ve grown to, yeah, to be more comfortable expressing that verbally, and through other means. So, wow. It sounds like we’ve had a few similar points in our journey.
Robyn: So it sounds like a major challenge here is what we’re just talking about is about over-empathizing or, or not necessarily over-empathizing, but how the very strong ability of an HSP to empathize with whatever client or patient you might be helping, would just become too much of a burden if you let it go unchecked in the helping profession.
So obviously working on how to set up professional boundaries is the first, it sounds like that’s the first key takeaway for anybody who wants to be doing this work. With the understanding that the message that they might be getting, you know, as a standard, ‘here’s how you put boundaries’ may not be sufficient for them as HSPs, or may not speak to the fact that this is going to feel a little unnatural, a little extra unnatural for you.
What other things come to mind, Andy, when you think of how your sensitivity may be playing out in the work that you’re doing?
Andy: I suppose another way that it plays out is that if I become overstimulated in a session where I’m supposed to be in the role of, you know, helping professional, it can be problematic. You know, I can sort of get flooded emotionally, or sometimes it’s a physical thing, if, if the space isn’t ideal.
I work in many different contexts as a music therapist, so that, that’s really, that can be challenging too is to, and again, I, I’m just coming to terms with my new identity as an HSP. So I’m doing some of this processing live in this moment. Yeah, that. So, yeah, being overstimulated, and knowing how to sort of handle that when I’m working with a client.
Robyn: I can speak to that a little bit as a teacher, because you, you do have a little bit that’s similar. Um, it’s not quite as strong, right? Like you really have to stay in that professional role and mode when you’ve got a client or a patient in front of you. To some degree you, what you should be aiming for as a teacher as well. Right?
Like no one wants to see the teacher having a breakdown in front of them. Ideally it’s not usually part of my lesson plan. So I do, yeah, and I mean, I’ve definitely had moments of overwhelm where it’s become visible. Right? I mean, I guess the first thing that you try to learn is how to feel it, without showing it or how to, I don’t know, how to channel it into something else.
Like sometimes I’ll have, sometimes I’ll like, I’ve developed one reflex. It’s like, if I’m finding myself getting agitated or something, my reflex is okay, ask more questions. Like put it back on the other person, like you got to get out of your head, you know?
So, so, okay. Start asking a bunch of questions to people in the class or, or I start asking my student a lot of questions. I mean, I don’t know if that particular technique would be appropriate in, in the kind of work that you’re doing, but, you know, having, having something that you, you go to that you develop as a reflex for when you are finding yourself getting overwhelmed.
I mean, first of all, I think the better you understand your, your triggers, the better you’re able to anticipate. Oh, okay. I’ve had to, you know, change office like five times today. That’s a little overwhelming for me. So the better you can recognize that, the better you can anticipate it and get yourself ready, to not have it like impede your, your workflow.
Andy: I think that makes sense. And, and the, you, you brought up some really good points that I could see being helpful. I’ll maybe try them and get back to you. But another thing I was thinking, as you were talking Robyn, is that sometimes that overstimulation can actually be a helpful tool in the therapeutic alliance and the therapeutic process.
So I’m thinking specifically, if, if there’s music involved in our session and the music provokes a strong emotional reaction in me, I can sometimes kind of jump on that and, and use that emotion to sort of fuel a stronger connection with, with the client.
And so again, and it’s, it’s this really, it’s a double-edged sword. Well I don’t like that expression, but it’s, it’s a tool that has two sides to it where, yeah, the overstimulation can be troublesome and can pose some challenges, especially if not dealt with appropriately.
But it can also be a fantastic way to forge a deeper connection with clients where I’m sure that if I didn’t have the HSP Trait, I wouldn’t have that ability to form those strong bonds.
Thomas: Coming up, we talk a little bit more about recognizing and managing our own triggers. We’ll be right back after this.
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Thomas: I’m wondering also, I mean, depending on the context, if you could also just take some deep breaths. It’s something that I do when I get a little bit overstimulated. I’ll just sort of close my eyes and take some deep breaths. And again, it all depends on the context.
Andy: Yeah, I’m doing that right now. Cause uh, I’m quite nervous right now to be on this podcast. When the three of you were speaking, it gives me some time to collect my… yeah.
Thomas: Very good.
Robyn: Yeah, I liked what you mentioned, Andy, about how, um, and again, I think that like this speaks to the importance of knowing your own triggers and you can’t tell every time, but the better you know your own sources of overstimulation, the better able you can also tell when it’s not coming from you, but when you’re actually like absorbing the other person’s overstimulation.
Cause it, sometimes that can happen as well. Right? We may not just be empathizing with what a client or patient expresses, they may be, it might just be a level of intensity and emotion and energy that they’re throwing at us that we then take on. So actually I do have an example of this where sometimes I’ll get a new student, and there’ll be very impatient.
Like, okay, I have to, like in two weeks! They have to be so much better at, uh, at this thing. Right? And when I was starting out, I would, and it still sometimes happens, I’ll get wrapped up in their impatience. And I’m like, okay, Oh my gosh, I have to do this. And I have to get this ready for them. And I have to na-na-na-na and I’ll just get carried along and wrapped up in their impatience or whatever emotion it is, but this one stands out for me.
And it’s really helpful to step back and say, okay, hold on. You know, is this my impatience or their impatience? And if it’s their impatience, is it really serving us? And there’s actually been many times where their impatience is something we had to talk about.
It was something I had to coach them on and say, hold on, why do you have all these beliefs about learning? Why, why do you believe this impossible thing? Like where is this coming from? Right? And so being able to turn that experience back on and make it, make it a teachable moment. That is one of the keys to helping clients move forward.
And I think it does join up with somebody that Rayne was saying where, you know, you have to recognize in yourself what the client/patient might be triggering in you. And I think often, clients and patients can trigger my own impatience and I’m like, yes, yes, they must, they must learn a language in one month.
Of course. Right. And then I have to stop for a second and think, wait, what? Come on. How did, how did they, how did they trick me into that? No. Okay. But let’s get back to being reasonable. So yeah, it can be helpful to ask your, well, I mean, it’s always a good question to ask yourself, like, where is this? Where is this overwhelming stress coming from?
Is it in you, is it someone else? And if it’s in the moment and from the patient or client, how can I bring that… How can I bring it out, highlight it and help them with that?
Andy: Right. Yeah, but that sounds like a great strategy.
Rayne: You know, something that’s coming to my mind right now is, I’ve found this in myself and I’ve noticed it another HSPs as well, is that we sometimes forget that our only job is not, you know, for that other person. That’s not, that’s not our reason for living, you know, it’s one of them, but it’s not the only one.
And I think it’s really important for HSPs to reach out for help themselves, you know, when they need to. Like if they are in a helping profession and they notice that certain feelings are coming up or they’re, you know, there’s just, there’s just something they’re not figuring out, you know, how do I, how do I, you know, how do I overcome this?
How do I figure this out? What’s really going on here. I think it’s really important when you need help to go out there and get it for yourself. Cause I know a lot of people in the helping professions, they end up getting burnt out and, or jaded or you know all these different things that, that are not ideal, you know?
You want to enjoy what you’re doing and you want it to continue to be a great experience, for yourself and others. And I think that’s going to include at times that, you know, we recognize when we ourselves are coming up against a wall and we need help with something.
And we, you know, we go and we get that help for ourselves, because we also need to be supported. I mean, how many times have you heard that, you know, psychiatrists have psychiatrists?
You know, you just, you know, it, it’s sort of part of the deal. You know, you do need a place and a space and to create that and to allow that, and to know that it’s 100% okay for yourself.
You know, for your own, for your own well-being, going forward. Cause there’s, you know, it’s life is, is interesting, you know, and it’s interesting because when you come up against one thing it’s and then you figure out, you know, with help, Oh, okay, this is how, this is how to do this. And then you start practicing it and then it, you notice, Oh, that made a world of difference. And then some time will go by and something else will pop up because you’ll, you’ll then be ready to see it.
It will then be ready to, to show itself to you so that you can then go, okay. And that’s the next thing I’m going to, you know, overcome or learn about or, you know, that kind of thing.
Andy: I think the value of having professional supervision is really important for HSPs in helping professions. It’s important for all helping professionals. As you mentioned, Rayne all… many psychiatrists need psychiatry.
And so I’ve, when I look back on past roles, I’ve had, where I can now deduce that my supervisor or people in my peer supervision network, maybe they didn’t sense my, that I was a Highly Sensitive person, but they acted, they provided supervision and support in a way that, yeah, that was conducive to my having that Trait.
Those were the really effective supervisors I had. And when I think about the ones who bulldozed over me, those were not helpful and I didn’t thrive in those roles. It took months, if not years, to sort of find my stride in those roles.
I’m now in a role where my supervisor and peer support networks are really supportive of what I need. I haven’t told them about the Trait, but I just feel really, like they sort of intuitively know how to give supervision to some sensitive person like myself. So if there are any HSPs entering or in the helping profession, yeah, I’ll underline what has already been said here. So important to have adequate supervision, even more so than a non-highly sensitives.
Robyn: My understanding too, correct me if I’m, if I’m, misinformed here. But my understanding is that there’s professions in particular, where there are widespread systemic pressures that, you know, you might be very lucky to get good support in supervision, but more likely that will not be there.
I hear from social workers and nurses in particular, I’m thinking, well, at least where I live, where often the conditions are just ripe for burnout. And, I guess I’m just saying this to underscore the point that, you know, I think a lot of what we’re talking about now is focused at the individual level.
But HSPs do tend to hyper-responsible-lize, you could say to be over-responsible. And there’s a day in a system that is not adequately providing support to the individuals. If you continue to see that as your own failing and shortcoming, you’re missing out on the fact that there maybe just really isn’t enough support for you. Period. And it’s not your particular supervisor. It’s just this, this is how things are working right now in the system. I dunno, does that sound possible?
Rayne: Yeah, that, that sounds right to me, Robyn. And I think what I was sort of suggesting was, that, you know, you’ll basically need to find your own support, whether that be in the work environment you are in or going externally and finding it, you know, whether it be, uh, a therapist that’s aware of HSP Trait and understands what it is. Could it be a coach. You know, that kind of thing.
But then also too, you know, some of the, some of the things like, say for nursing, I mean, it could be instead of working a 40 hour week, sometimes it’s a matter of you know, recognizing where your own… what’s healthy for you.
So a 40 hour week may not be healthy for you, maybe, uh, a 25 hour a week is what’s going to be healthy for you, if you’re in a helping profession. I know there’s some HSP Therapists that, they won’t take on any more than say 10 clients at a time. Because it’s just, there’s just no way. They’ll burn out. It’s too much.
You know, and they’ve, they’ve recognized what their own limits are for their own sanity and health and wellbeing because, you know, we, we aren’t like the majority of the population. Our nervous system is highly developed. So we do pick up on more and we do need more downtime, you know, to process and stuff like that.
So, you know, having… being okay with developing different expectations for yourself, than what the non-HSP population, standard is, you know what I mean?
Andy: Yeah, that does make a lot of sense. So another thing I just thought is that sometimes I’ll be working with a client and I will detect the HSP Trait in the client. And very rarely, uh, if it seems like the client is ready to hear it and is going to be receptive of hearing about the Trait, I will bring it up. And every time I’ve, I’ve mentioned it, uh, it’s been well received.
Actually I recommended this podcast to one client who he didn’t listen to it right away, but when he did he came back to our session and said, wow, I, I checked out the podcast and really helpful. And so, yeah, that’s been an interesting thing, is that knowing about this Trait can sometimes be itself a powerful tool to help clients just bringing up the trait and letting them kind of, roll with that.
Thomas: That’s so great to hear. And, and what I’m also hearing from you is sometimes you have to be careful about, you know, when you might say something.
Andy: Yeah, I mean, I think there are times when bringing the Trait in when the client is, is maybe dealing with other more pressing issues or they’re just not ready to, to hear that. I mean, speaking personally, it was, it was a lot to process kind of re-conceptualizing my life through this Trait.
Rayne: When you, when you found out hey Andy?
Andy: Yeah, well actually I brought it up to my own personal therapist and she said, Wow! You know, I was actually just going to mention that I had been thinking it for a while. And now that you say it, it makes so much sense. And you know, I’m, I’m so happy for you that you’ve found this because I work with a few other HSP clients.
And once they know that that’s something that they can help understand their life with, it can be remarkably helpful.
Robyn: Yeah. Um, I’m really glad you mentioned this because you know, we’ve been talking about some of the challenges for an HSP in a helping profession, but this is one of the huge strengths and assets that they bring to the role.
Cause I know, speaking as an HSP, anytime I have a doctor or a therapist or a coach or a teacher or a, you know, anybody who’s helping me with something, even a dietician, you know, it doesn’t necessarily have to be mental health, but like any kind of person who’s helping when they understand, even if they’re not HSPs, but especially if they’re HSPs who understand their sensitivity, if they see it in me and know how to adapt, like it just makes a world of difference.
Rayne: Absolutely. Thank you so much for, for mentioning the podcast too, Andy. It’s nice to know that, um, that it was that it was a cool tool for cool tool for someone to, you know, to introduce them to the Trait.
Andy: I’m just passing the torch.
Thomas: Well, Andy, thank you for today’s conversation. I’m wondering if there were some points that resonated with you.
Andy: So many points resonated. Um, I think, well, since it’s fresh in my head, this idea of HSPs needing more supervision. I think that’s something that until now I had, yeah, I maybe had some qualms about, Oh, why do I need more supervision and more time off? And now I’m reframing it as well, no, that’s, that’s a, it’s a good thing that I can recognize what supports and time off I need to be able to thrive.
Yeah, the whole conversation. I can’t wait to actually go back and listen to it in podcast form.
Robyn: If I can just add something to that point, just in case any supervisors are listening and getting the wrong idea. It’s not that HSPs are, you know, this, this greater use of resources and your time, right? You have to put it in that context too, that a little bit goes a long way and a lot goes a very, very long way right?
Thomas: It sure it does.
Robyn: There’s that there’s that quote in the Highly Sensitive documentary, they had surveyed some employers about their employees to ask, you know, how, how would you rate different people? And the ones who identified as highly sensitive were rated as some of the most competent in that workplace.
They were also the ones who were the least satisfied with their job. So, I think one of the ingredients that can help keep HSPs healthy and functional and happy, but also really productive and valuable; is appropriate support and supervision.
Andy: Also if my former supervisor is listening, I apologize for referring to you as a bulldozer.
Thomas: Well, Andy, thank you so much for joining us. This was a great conversation.
Andy: Thanks for having me.
Rayne: Thanks Andy.
Robyn: Yeah, thanks Andy. And to all of our listeners, of course. So please join us for our next episode where we’ll be having another interesting HSP conversation. And to any Highly Sensitives out there who have a burning HSP-related question, big or small, we invite you to ask it on the HSP world podcast, just email [email protected].
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Music credit: Intro and Outro music from the YouTube Music Library. Song is Clover 3.