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Being A Psychotherapist In The Midst Of The Coronavirus Pandemic

Although I’m not directly on the front lines and working with symptomatic hospitalized Covid-19 patients, I’m treating those who are infected, are symptomatic or asymptomatic and quarantined at home, their family, friends, and others who are indirectly impacted. Living here in New York, most of us are directly impacted in one way or another.

I’m juggling being a wife, a mother to four children ages 19 to 11, and care for three dogs. I’m also conducting remote sessions which is more taxing than I thought it would be. After intently staring at a screen for as many hours that I currently am, I am left feeling more exhausted than ever before. However, I do get the benefit of seeing my patients in their element which comes along with them sharing significant aspects of themselves. I get to see their homes, pets, and anything else they choose to share with me.

There’s a personalization to the interaction which I’m greatly appreciative of. We’re also sharing our collective experience which is infused with everyone experiencing uncertainty, a lack of control, and general fear. The pleasantry of asking about theirs and my safety, health, and well-being have become common place. We are all feeling the concern because it’s undeniably real and relevant.

As much as my mind is pleading for me to, I can’t turn off the constant flow of new information regarding the pandemic. It desperately wants to deny, dismiss, ignore, and cut off from it all. I’m often left feeling confused, helpless, and overwhelmed for all those that continue to suffer in fundamental ways.

I just can’t distance from it as I feel the need to be continually informed in order to help and hold a space for those that seek my support and guidance. I need to know what they are worried about, challenged with, and the resources available that can directly help them.

As for myself, I am incessantly worried about my almost 100-year-old grandmother who is in a nursing rehabilitation facility in Brooklyn, the hub of infection and travesties. I haven’t seen her in many weeks because of the pandemic and the communication has been cut off as well. The thought of her being alone breaks my heart. Her days are numbered and if anything were to happen, she would die alone. That thought haunts me. All those that are hospitalized and who are alone, and all of those who are dying alone also preoccupies my thoughts.

I teach a graduate course on mindfulness at New York University which transitioned to be taught remotely. Students submit weekly journals about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. They will all graduate in May without a definitive date as to when they will attend graduation which is understandably postponed.

We have the unexpected authentic experience of practicing to be mindful in the midst of our collective pain. I have the privilege of supporting them through this and the additional heaviness of ensuring that I’m effectively doing my part to teach them and be attuned to their personal and clinical needs.

Being an empath, which lends to my ability to connect to my patients on a deep connected level, also depletes me at times. I’m cognizant of all my worries – for the frontline and healthcare workers, for the bereft, and for all of us. I also stay very connected to those thoughts and feelings and make continual concerted efforts to stay in the present moment, practice self-care, and have a safe space to express my thoughts and feelings. My meditative practice, nutritional and exercise regiment, and relationships ground me and serve as a vital source of strength and empowerment for me.

The need for me to connect to my fragility and helplessness, frustrations, and judgments are also necessary. There’s so much about what going on that can be disappointing and exasperating. There are opinions about the way in which the government has and is currently handling the pandemic, the way in which individuals are reacting and acting in response to the pandemic, and the way in which we “ought” to cope with it all.

I’m honored to be considered an essential worker. I’m grateful that the work I’m doing has been deemed important enough to be recognized in that category. The pandemic raises a lot of questions about the reverberating affects it will have on all of us. I have seen the impact on some of increased anxiety, depression, and a triggering of past traumas. This is bound to take an emotional toll that has to be assessed for and addressed continually.

I ebb and flow through a plethora of emotions which often leaves me feeling sad, disappointed, frustrated, and helpless. I don’t think there’s any other way to be during such a difficult and precarious time that greatly challenges our fears, resilience, and coping. This is common for all of us. The universality, as troubling as it is for me, is also comforting to me, as it unifies us all. I feel part of a broader community where I have seen a lot of kindness, generosity, and people stretching to help one another.

I must intentionally be self-aware, in tune with where I’m at, and be especially conscious that I’m not allowing my thoughts and feelings to negatively spill over into my interactions with my patients and students. It’s my duty and desire to serve others with ethical and best practice being formative. I’m also making it a point to lead with my values and lean into finding meaning and be purposeful.

I have committed to making and disseminating daily videos with mindful talks and guided meditations or mindfulness practices and exercises. I have also volunteered to conduct trainings and treat patient’s pro bono when there is a need. Finding a way to help others and give back is allowing me to be more connected to my humanness and the values that I hold most sacred.

With all this and more that I take on, which is overwhelming and challenging at times, I would not change being of service to others even for a minute. I get the ability to model kindness and care to my children, lean into my core values of helping others which enables me to be my best self, and tap into a life of purpose and meaning. I hope each and every day that the suffering and pain subsides, but until then, I will continue to be there for others, as I committed and choose to be.

Blog posted on Psych Central.

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