Invisible Heroes

Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 7-22-2021

“It is a dark, painful and torturous path to take. And we do not do it for reward, we do it because it is right.” -EaE

Just as invisible and unseen as the mental health world is, so is that of the work that is done to alleviate or cure these mental illnesses. I’ve heard all the myths imaginable:

“All they (therapists) do is tell you what you want to hear.”

“They just let you talk and then take your money.”

“How is talking to anyone going to solve my problems? I can talk to friends instead.”

“All you guys do is listen; how does it help to rehash old things?”

“You want to send us inpatient or get us into trouble with the law.”

“People just use mental illness and therapy as a crutch and an excuse.” 

      We’re helping agents more than harming ones (ideally). We are change agents more than we listen and allow clients to stay the same. We empower vs allowing illnesses to become an ‘excuse’ or crutch. We recognize limitations yet find ways to help people think outside the box and go above and beyond those limitations. We save people more than condemn them. Even when it seems we have to make a decision that puts someone else out of their comfort zone, it is still for their safety and the safety of those around them/ us.

     I could never talk much about what I did to save people, for obvious reasons, HIPAA. That is why therapists truly are the invisible heroes. All other heroes can often talk about their heroics. Maybe it will be in the news, maybe they are not bound by confidentiality. Maybe they rescued people that are willing to brag about them later. Therapists? Never. Our stories and heroics will often go untold. We do not do this job for reward, and if anyone seeks it out for reward, they may be gravely disappointed. It is never about recognition when working in mental health. It’s about helping heal others with the recognition that that sacrifice will better society, and in turn, ourselves.

     Therapists do, in fact, save people from killing themselves, save people from killing other people, save children who are suffering from child abuse in their households, save people who are in vicious cycles of incarceration. We save people going through domestic violence, save people from false accusations, save people going through chronic homelessness. There are some people who credit us with saving their lives, then there are people walking around that have no idea, that a therapist saved them from a homicidal or angry/ violent client. There is a military platoon sergeant that did not get shot/ killed by one of our homicidal soldiers. There is a college professor that does not know I saved him from a false sexual assault allegation. There are people in Brooklyn that do not know I saved them from the fantasy/ plan of creating a gunline of angry/ prejudice people meant to target BLM protestors. There is a veteran that did NOT end up threatening his college more and then killing himself due to failed grades. 

     Obviously, some of these were very serious matters, yet the world will rarely know about them or what exactly was prevented… since it was, in fact, prevented. Every therapist has stories much like these, they come home exhausted and worn down. The people around them wondering ‘how could it really be that bad?’ The movies may often portray it like we have very gentle, easy going and sometimes even comical sessions. The general public cannot imagine just how bad a person’s mind can get when everything has worn them down to the point of helplessness, rage and/ or desperation. We hear the secrets that most people deflect away from their everyday lives, we take on that burden unbeknownst to many. 

     Because of this, self-care is even more crucial. Maya Angelou had written one of my most favorite quotes that I believe captures the essence/ hardship of a therapist’s burden: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” A mass abundance of trauma/ grief and/ or emotional stories accompanied by the mandate that we stay silent about them means we are living in agony quite often, all alone. It’s isolating to say the least. If you know a therapist, there are some do’s and don’ts that can be quite helpful.


–          Solicit free therapy from them on their off time

–          Downplay their emotional burden

–          Compare your job to there’s 

–          Intrude on their boundaries

–          Disrespect or mock their self-care routine


–          Acknowledge the stress/ emotional drain

–          Be a listener for them if you are down for it (we rarely get to talk)

–          Give space when requested

–          Respect the way in which our social setting is preferred

–          Talk about things that have nothing to do with work sometimes

     I worked as a mental health technician for a total of ten years, and a mental health therapist for a total of 3.5 years (not including my internship experiences). With that being said, there are three major things I believe was missing for me: 1- Boundaries 2- A good support system 3- A self-care routine. It could have made all the difference, but I did not know what I did not know. My professional development was always on point, but I sacrificed self-insight in the process and many other things fell apart as a domino effect. 

     A lack of boundaries meant going above and beyond my capabilities at work and at home. It meant always being the ‘yes girl’ even when I had no free time or energy, when I had nothing left to give. This led to incredibly fast burnout. A lack of a good support system meant coming home to people that did not care how stressed or burnt out I was and continued to put more demands on me. Or hanging out with people that took advantage of my skills and empathy despite my fatigue. Then, a personal lack of self-care was the ‘Cherry on top’ I needed to create a perfect recipe for disaster. Lacking self-care first means, lacking self-awareness and what is needed in order to make sure we sustain ourselves over a long period of time. I did not have this due to a dysfunctional upbringing followed by a toxic military career. I know better now. Had these three things not been lacking, I may have been able to sustain a clinical career for a longer period of time. All is not lost; we learn from even our greatest hardships. 

If you know an invisible hero, be good to them, they are going through more than they care to admit, and more than you may know. If you are an invisible hero, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, I understand and have felt the sacrifice and your work is important even when no one is watching.

Published by functionallymentall

Social Worker, Writer, USAF Veteran

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