A Moment in Time: Opportunity and Challenge During Covid-19
Caroline Burke, psychotherapist in private practice; Lecturer in Personal Development IICP
It seems to me that this pandemic offers us, as therapists, a unique experience of symmetry with our clients. This is a moment in time where client and therapist are navigating exactly the same landscape, albeit from different standpoints. From a pluralistic perspective I feel it offers us the opportunity to truly embody one of the main principles of the theory, which is collaboration. We are all in unchartered waters which I feel brings a rare balance to the therapeutic endeavour and provides us with a unique opportunity to co-create a path through. While, of course, it has always been the case that our contact with clients has provided us with opportunities to learn and grow, this current situation in which we are literally locked down in our homes, without the freedom of movement or contact with family and friends, places us in a unique moment in time, where our clients can be as of much support to us as we are to them.
The collaborative approach reduces a sense of responsibility on the therapist to ‘fix’ the client but rather engages the client as an active participation in their own problem resolution. One of the challenges in practising this model is to park the belief that, as therapists, we really do know what clients need to do in order to make their lives better. But by parking it, we can truly engage in a collaboration exploration of ways forward. It is a humbling endeavour which creates equilibrium and, if successfully navigated, results in both parties being changed for the better. Right now, it seems to me that challenge feels less taxing, as none of us really knows how to navigate this pandemic.
One of the issues I find I am struggling with on a personal level is the constant diet of panic and fear we are being fed. I simply don’t feel anxious and while I am certainly cautious I am not fearful. I can understand that people are fearful and panicked and I can empathise but I am aware of a part of me that finds it a little more challenging to do so because clients are expressing fear and panic over the very same situation that I am dealing with, at precisely the same moment they are dealing with it. Curiously, this has actually forced me to question my own feelings at this time, even resorting to asking myself if there is something wrong with me because I am not more scared! Do I have a blind spot? Am I missing something? To be clear, this does not apply to all my clients and I am not referring to clients who have experienced significant loss, either of income or indeed of loved ones, but rather to clients who are in very similar situations to my own.
Intellectually I understand that we have a personal history which informs how we deal with crisis in the present and this awareness mobilises my empathic response. When clients make statements such as, ‘it’s really scary, isn’t it? I respond empathically that I can hear they feel afraid, l but I’m faced with a dilemma around whether or not to respond congruently. For some clients, I feel concerned that my honesty around not sharing their fear would evoke a sense of shame in them, potentially sabotaging the therapeutic relationship. That concern is confounded by the fact that we are conducting therapy online at the moment, which can be challenging in and of itself and so I feel somewhat compromised. Some clients of course feel soothed by the fact that I don’t share their fear, and my congruence around that offers them a different lens through which they can view their experience, resulting in some alleviation of their anxiety. It is indeed a precarious process but, like any other, one which offers endless potential to grow as a therapist.