As we help people cope with chaos and uncertainty, therapists are struggling too
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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.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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"I love being a nurse because I have the honor of connecting with my patients during some of their best and some of their worst days and making a difference in their lives is among the most rewarding things that I can do in my own life" - Tenesia Richards, RN

From ushering new life into the world to holding the hand of a patient as they take their last breath, nurses are everyday heroes that deserve our respect and appreciation.

To give back to this community that is always giving so selflessly to others, CeraVe® put out a call to nurses to share their stories for a chance to be featured in Heroes Behind the Masks, a digital content series shining a light on nurses who go above and beyond to provide safe and quality care to patients and their communities.

First up: Tenesia Richards, a labor and delivery nurse working in New York City who, in addition to her regular job, started a community outreach program in a homeless shelter that houses expectant mothers for up to one year postpartum.

Tenesia | Heroes Behind the Masks presented by CeraVe www.youtube.com

Upon learning at a conference that black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the widest of all racial disparities in women's health, Richards decided to take further action to help her community. She, along with a handful of fellow nurses, volunteered to provide antepartum, childbirth and postpartum education to the women living at the shelter. Additionally, they looked for other ways to boost the spirits of the residents, like throwing baby showers and bringing in guest speakers. When COVID-19 hit and in-person gatherings were no longer possible, Richards and her team found creative workarounds and created holiday care packages for the mothers instead.

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