In a matter of days and weeks, our lives and our world have changed more than they have in decades. Many of us are struggling to figure out what this means for our families, our jobs, our communities, and just about every other aspect of our lives. Many of us are questioning what it means to be a mental health practitioner during a global pandemic.
One tiny virus has changed our lives as we know them. Apocalyptic movies over the past few decades have offered glimpses into a world where we might be confined to our homes, unable to go to work, and experience food shortages. Little did we know that we would be experiencing our own nightmarish version of it in 2020.
As Mental Health Practitioners, we find ourselves in a position where we are expected to hold space for others through difficult times, offer insight and feedback, and have the capacity to support others.
But what do we do when the whole globe is experiencing one of the scariest and unprecedented situations we have ever faced?
It’s not that humanity has never seen viruses or widespread illness, or even pandemics where tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of lives were taken. But we have never seen it at a time when there are nearly 8 billion people on the planet. Our lives, our health care system, and our economy are so tightly knit, it is clear that this pandemic touches us all and significantly affects every corner of our lives.
There is much we don’t know.
We don’t know enough about this virus and its impact. We don’t know when or if things will go back to normal. We don’t know who is going to get sick or how many people will die. And we cannot comprehend the scale upon which this single event is going to change the course of humanity.
To believe that there is a time in the near future when things are just going to go back to the way they were is idealistic and hopeful, yet likely unrealistic.
This event is going to change life as we know it. If you think about it, it already has. Never before have we experienced a global event of this magnitude. We can only imagine that this will have lasting implications on the way in which we live.
In the past two weeks, I have found myself thinking about things that were so far from my consciousness only a short time ago. I am keenly aware of how much food is in our kitchen and how long we can expect it to last. I have never been more conscious of the surfaces I touch and when I last washed my hands. I pay attention to how closely another person is standing or walking next to me, and I do my best to distance myself at least 6 feet away. I think about what might happen if I am a carrier and I pass it along to someone who is immunocompromised, or for any reason, unable to fight the virus off in the way that most healthy people can.
I am fortunate in that I already work from home and my business is already entirely online. The way I conduct business on a day-to-day basis has stayed relatively the same up until now. The most significant differences are that I am now supporting more mental health practitioners than usual to transition their practices from in-person to virtual, and I am having more conversations with clients about the impact of COVID-19.
There are few people who can say that. Most people I know are experiencing mild to severe upheaval in the way they perform their jobs, and many people cannot perform their jobs at all.
As Mental Health Practitioners, not only do we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory personally, but we are entering new territory with our clients as well. We are being asked to hold space for folks who are struggling with the same things we are, who have the same fears we do, and are experiencing many of the same experiences as us.
Given all of this, how do we continue to support our clients effectively?
Up until now, we likely felt competent in our ability to support our clients. The training we’ve received and the life experiences we’ve had, have put many of us in a good position to support others. But that may no longer be the case. None of us have received training on this. None of us has ever experienced this before.
We are all swimming in the same water now.
So what separates us from our clients? What gives us the right to take the seat of the therapist during this time? And what if there aren’t any clear answers right now?
Many years ago, a teacher of mine gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’d ever received. She said, “Sometimes, I don’t know is a perfectly valid answer.” I have never forgotten that advice. And I think it’s particularly applicable right now.
It’s okay not to know.
It’s okay to feel afraid.
It’s okay to feel uncertain and not to have the answers.
It’s okay to cry.
It’s okay to handle this imperfectly.
It’s okay to be angry.
Rather than offer advice, since I am swimming in the same water as you, what I can offer is a glimpse into how I am handling this.
I have cried.
I have allowed myself to feel angry.
I have chosen to put my wife and my unborn child, first.
I have made decisions that I never thought I would have to make.
I have disappointed others in order to do what is right for me and my family.
I have worked hard to keep an open mind, even when everything in me wants to close down.
I have thought more about how my actions impact others than ever before.
I have learned a lot about the resilience of my family, friends, and neighbors.
I have been paying attention to who I want to stay connected to during this time, and who I would prefer to distance myself from.
I have sought out those who bring calm, clarity, and comfort.
I have been avoiding those who are behaving recklessly or carelessly.
I am working hard to recognize that each one of us is handling this differently.
I am practicing good self-care.
I am self-isolating (with my family) to the best of my ability.
I am sitting with the impact of all of this on my role as a business owner, mentor, therapist, and leader in my community.
I am offering help and support where I can.
I am taking it one day at a time.
One thing I know right now, is that we are all in this together.
Whether we like it or not, this is the beginning … not the end. Even though we will experience the peak and eventual decline of the spread of this virus, it will not be over just because, one day, there are no new cases.
It will take our economy time to recover. We will all be changed in new and incomprehensible ways. My daughter will be born into a world next month that is vastly different than the month in which she was conceived.
One day, we will tell the story of this moment in time. We might tell it as a distant memory … “that one time that happened… “, or we might tell it as one of the most pivotal times in history. The story that changed everything.
Right now, we just don’t know. I have a feeling that the reality will lie somewhere in between.
Looking for support as you transition your practice online? I’d love to help! Check out my Master Class in Online Counselling or book a free 20-minute Business Mentorship Consultation to see how I can support you!