Adapting Amidst Uncertainty - A Note To Fellow Therapists
Choosing to become a therapist, for most, is born out of the ability to express a deep level of empathy and a desire to help others. Many have also chosen this path because of their own struggles. Someone along the way was there with an open heart and a receptive ear to guide them through their darkest hours. As therapists, we learn to compartmentalize our life struggles when necessary and use them appropriately in accordance with therapeutic process. Being a therapist does not make us immune to anxiety, fear, sadness, worry or situations that life throws at us. Checking our feelings at the door can sometimes be a challenge. It’s recognizing those challenges that makes relating to patients so valuable.
Never in all my years of practice, and I think I can freely speak for my colleagues when I say, have we ever been prepared for the pandemic that we are dealing with right now. Personally, trying to navigate uncertainty while helping my patients do the same, has been a unique and difficult experience. In a blink of an eye we needed to become technologically savvy and resort to virtual therapy. A week later I moved my office into my daughter’s study/playroom, where she’s decided to charge me rent for taking over her space. Her Fee has yet to be determined. I guess I can find some relief in knowing I’m modeling good entrepreneurial skills for my soon to be teen. In any event, these transitions prove to be emotionally taxing. There was no other choice but to adapt. Aside from some personal details, I know this has been the same experience for my colleagues. On a global level, we are all trying to navigate the uncertainty that this pandemic has caused and personally we are all grieving for the life we once knew. Everyone is challenged in a unique way while enduring the current global emergency. The way that all of our lives have changed, with no end in sight, makes tolerating that fact that much more difficult to comprehend. Simultaneously grieving and navigating uncertainty with patients is proving to be a unique experience.
Up until this point I felt reassured in my skills as a therapist, yet for the first time in a long time, I’ve found myself hesitant in openly sharing that with patients. Trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for others while trying to enable that for myself, has seemed to prove to be difficult. But then I paused, and I remembered we are all human and being authentic has been a core value of my work. It’s then that I realized I needed to turn a little bit of that self-compassion that I have been preaching to my patients onto myself. So, here’s a few things I’ve tried to implement that I’d like to share with my fellow colleagues and friends, who I know are doing an amazing job in this very scary and uncertain time.
Give yourself some credit. We’ve had to adapt to some major changes as we simultaneously navigate uncertainty alongside the patients we treat. This is an extraordinary circumstance and one we’ve never encountered.
Take breaks and step away when you need. Go for walks, get outside during or at the end of your day. We aren’t working from home in the true sense of the word. We’ve had no choice but to bring our work home during a crisis. The change of scenery and moving your body will help shift your mindset from work mode back to home.
Be mindful and meditate. Headspace is now offering a large collection of meditations specifically for this pandemic called Weathering the Storm.
Practice self-compassion and just as we tell our patients, feel all the feelings- they are valid.
Schedule virtual friend and family time that works for you. Being in front of the screen all day can be daunting and the last thing you might want to do is another facetime or zoom “session”, but friend and family time is also a way to emotionally connect. Creating time and space to do so that works for YOU is a form of self-care, and saying No is ok too.
Be with yourself. Take time to self-reflect. Instead of doing, focus on being. This imposed pause can be an opportunity to reconnect with yourself and perhaps parts of you that you may have been neglecting.
Laugh, as often and as much as you can. This is all but a funny time, but in even some of the most difficult times, laughter can be found, and is excellent medicine.
I have a few final thoughts that I’ve discovered along this recent journey and perhaps something to ponder as a fellow therapist. Clearly, we are not immune from struggle, loss, or any kind of adversity. Throughout most of our careers we’ve encountered these struggles as we continued to support our patients. However, as I mentioned above, this truly is the first time we are doing it alongside our patients. Aside from the uncertainty and ongoing stress, I have found a new love for what we do and a mutual sense of compassion for my patients. The concern that my patients have shown me during these tumultuous times has been overwhelming. I have been more transparent than usual with my personal responses to this pandemic. It’s comforting to know that they continue to trust in my support regardless of the uncertainty that this time has brought for myself and them. Whether they are sending me a funny meme highlighting this very real struggle or telling me what they did to feel great today. I am continually invited into their lives in a new way. This pandemic will have an eventual end. Our day to day lives will continue to change due to worldly events, but our therapeutic relationships will continue to adapt and remain strong.