As we help people cope with chaos and uncertainty, therapists are struggling too
Americans are facing uncertainty, and it's starting to seem as if uncertainty is the norm. Over the past eight months we have battled the never ending war with COVID, started, stopped and restarted virtual school, and witnessed the reanimation of a civil rights movement. We've watched daily as news outlets recount death tolls and survival numbers for the pandemic, all while trying to give our family a semblance of normalcy, but nothing about this is normal and the helpers we are used to turning to are burning the wicks at both ends.
In today's climate, therapists are battling the same battles as our patients. Once upon a time before COVID, our stressors would occasionally overlap, but in recent months the stressors are exactly the same as the majority of our clients. Therapists are encouraging our clients to do the very basics to keep from spiraling into a depression, all while we struggle to change out of our pajama bottoms for virtual sessions. At times it's difficult to put aside your own personal struggles to focus on the needs of our clients, but we still show up.
We keep showing up ready to hold space even though our own cups are empty, but the fear of the election outcome is a different level of connectedness that we as therapists were not prepared for. The fear around elections is not new, of course; we navigated this in 2016. But with the very palpable division in our country, our clients are scared. They're scared of either outcome, and so are we.
Communities of color are turning to therapists to help them not only navigate the continued shootings of unarmed Black and brown men by police, but to also have a safe place to express their fears and anxieties around the election. The state of the country is shaky, to put it mildly, for our minority communities. This includes increased depression and anxiety rates in LGBTQ+ communities as well. It seems as if therapists have noticed a collective holding of breath, and yet we also sit not breathing, waiting for the shoe to drop.
Therapists are not immune from current events. In fact, it's in many of our codes of ethics to be updated and actively advocating for things that are or will negatively affect our clients. Our clients are seeing news reports of the lines wrapped around sporting goods stores to purchase ammo and calls for a civil war should the election swing the pendulum toward the other direction. We sit in uncomfortable fear while our clients pour their hearts out, expecting us to have the answer. But we weren't trained for pandemic counseling in a tumultuous election year while the country is literally on fire. There was not a class for that.
We are sitting across from clients via screen or in person empathizing with their fear while experiencing the same gut-punching terror. We are getting hung up on what coping skills to suggest because we've tried them and they're not working for us, so we hesitate to suggest them to you. Of course, a brave face is put on display and we walk through mindfulness exercises to help ground you to the present moment, but in reality, the present moment is filled with uncertainty and doubt. When the only way out is through, we have to give our clients the tools to push through.
Therapy still works, even if at times your therapist may look haggard. We want you in our office, physical or virtually. This state that we're in is hard for everyone. It's important to know you're not alone and to develop the tools you need to push through to the other side of this election and beyond.
It's natural to have fear when nothing seems certain. We've been living in a heightened sense of survival for an extended period of time, and our brains are just not equipped to thrive in fight or flight for that long. So rest, talk to someone, and give yourself permission to feel whatever you're feeling. Even your therapist needs to do that right now.
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