Adding Value to Mental Health Work: Do WE See Our Value?

By: Sara Wong (our fabulous ZynnyMe intern- an International Studies student from Australia)

When I met Miranda for the first time, we were sitting down at a hipster restaurant-pub hybrid here in Seattle called Hudson Public House (they make a warm kale salad to-die-for, just ask Miranda) discussing ZynnyMe and what it was all about. After processing through the work she and Kelly are doing to help therapists, psychologists, and health professionals run successful private practices and businesses in general, an article my best friend sent me a couple of months ago came to mind. 

 Whenever my best friend sends me articles, I usually bookmark them to read for later because she likes to send me these philosophical, intellectual, weighty articles all the time—she doesn’t have a switch. Not exactly what I wanted to read after a day of college but I decided, out of guilt, to read this particular one she sent over. The article In the Name of Love was written by a PhD in art history, Miya Tokumitsu, and discusses the way our society and culture devalues and undervalues certain professions such as those within academia. She says this is happening because this work is being masked by the “Do What You Love” (DWYL) doctrine.

 Tokumitsu says that the majority of academics believes their work should be done out of pure love and that the compensation for their labor should only be an afterthought, if a thought at all. This is what being in academia is all about, right? While this isn’t a problem on the surface and is actually so respectable, Tokumitsu makes the point that these sacrificial thought and action processes also lead to “vicious exploitation.”

Certain industries, especially those that fall within the social sciences, have been known for paying their employees in “social currency” instead of actual wages. The worst thing is that most of these employees willingly accept this form of compensation.

“These industries have long been accustomed to masses of employees willing to work for social currency instead of actual wages, all in the name of love.” (1)

Another ironic point she raises is that while people in these devalued fields think that they have escaped the corporate world, they are actually very much a part of a corporate-like management structure: maximum work at the lowest cost.

Anyway, let me bring this back to the Hudson Public House. As Miranda was talking about different clients she had encountered, especially therapists and psychologists, it struck me that the DWYL doctrine is also present in the mental health field. The widespread belief that non-material rewards are sufficient for therapists and psychologists and that they shouldn’t expect any more is so real and evident! Like I said before, I am not saying that the work that mental health profession should not be done out of the love and genuine passion. In fact, that’s usually a given. However, as eloquently put by Tokumitsu, emotionally satisfying work is still work and acknowledging it as such doesn’t undermine it in any way.

What therapists and psychologists do is important, necessary and life impacting but it is also work. Why are we undervaluing and devaluing it? According to Tokumitsu, the revaluing of this work starts from within. When mental health professionals can begin to believe their rewards come not only in emotional and social forms but financial ones, they can start to reject the financial devaluation and “exploitation” of their work. It starts with you! Not being afraid of your value as an impactful, social worker is so important to getting you what you not only deserve but what you need. Although money may not be what drives your work, it is still a necessary part of life that can open up opportunities for you, your family, and your work itself.

Overall, I guess I should thank my best friend for sending me this surprisingly applicable blog post! I am happy that I was able to slog through the intellectual bog to pull out a couple of gems for myself and hopefully for you too. However, with 11 books to read for 3 writing-intensive classes this quarter, guilt will probably still be the biggest factor that will drive me to read more of these articles.

(1) Tokumitsu , Miya. "In the Name of Love ." Jacobin. (accessed April 7, 2014).

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