Global Pandemic! These frightening words have changed lives and livelihoods in countless ways. For some, the resultant isolation is intolerable, while for families and roommates cooped up together, alone time is sorely missed. Anxiety rules the day for many who are uncertain if they will have funds to cover rent, mortgage or food. Medical advice and warnings, some sound, some not, fill airwaves and social media feeds. We are all being challenged to be creative in how we spend days that seem to morph into each other, and the calendar has become a good friend. We are living in an invisible society of bare grocery shelves, boulevards absent of pedestrians, and identities hidden behind medical masks.

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Many of my clients, like those of so many of my colleagues, had already been struggling with anxiety, depression and existential angst pre COVID-19. Now they have the added burden of trying to cope in a fear-laden world – a world that for many seems to be spiraling out of their control. Working with clients to find areas of their lives they can still control has been extremely valuable to them. Teaching people relaxation and breathing exercises, encouraging connectivity via video platforms, phone calls and texting, and emphasizing the importance of physical activity has also been helpful. I suspect that many of you are utilizing similar techniques. What I have been noticing, however, is that the focus of sessions has varied across client populations.

What weighs most heavily on my more senior clients is fear of contracting the Coronavirus and ending up hospitalized or isolated in their homes. Deciding which family members, close friends or trusted neighbors they’d feel comfortable reaching out to in an emergency has been part of our work. But for a handful of others, there’s the frightening realization they’ve lived their lives without an adequate support system. Some clients have yet to create a will or DNR order. For these particular patients, end of life plans were not a subject to be broached with loved ones, let alone thought about. In our sessions, we have begun the hard task of working through their discomfort.

A large part of my practice is devoted to working with ethical vegans. These clients are finely attuned to the suffering we humans inflict on non-human animals. While the actual origin of Covid-19 may never be agreed upon (bat, Pangolin, or other animal), there has been lots of speculation that it originated in one of the wet markets in the Wuhan Province of China. Video footage of these outdoor markets, where diverse species are trapped in tiny cages or crammed into dirty pans of water, is being widely circulated on social media. Seeing these suffering creatures, which reminds my clients of the many animals living in wretched conditions on our factory farms, has been extremely triggering. Additionally, with so many people being laid off from their jobs, my clients are concerned that people may decide they can longer afford to keep their animal family members and will resort to abandoning them at shelters or worse, on the streets. Relaxation and visualization exercises, as well as a good deal of venting, have been a big focus with this population. Identifying actions they can take to help animals has also been key, and some have decided to foster a dog, cat, or rabbit or donate money/supplies to the many animal organizations now in dire straights.

Another sector of my client base are those people with children, and concerns vary depending on the child’s age. Those with younger children are reporting being very overwhelmed with having to home school, work remotely, and stay on top of household chores. Clients with college-age kids are now dealing with young adults who have gotten used to calling the shots in their lives. They may have returned to childhood bedrooms, but they’re far from eager to return to childhood routines and restrictions. Parents who were beginning to adjust to their empty nests and clutter-less spaces are once again contending with towels strewn across bathroom floors, laundry baskets piled high, and diminished privacy. For these clients, creating boundaries and house rules has been essential. I’ve also been emphasizing the importance of alone time, which of course is much easier to implement for those living in houses or large apartments, where doors are now prized. While time alone in smaller spaces is more challenging, setting up a daily schedule where for a specified amount of time each family member won’t be disturbed can be an alternative.

Whether client or practitioner, we can get through these trying times with a little creativity, a lot of patience, and a mantra of, “good enough.”


File under: The Art of Psychotherapy, COVID-19 Blogs