As mental health providers either working on tele-health platforms or face-to-face with masks and physical distancing, I don’t think we have ever been more challenged to balance the impact of extraordinary external and systemic stressors and unrest with an ongoing need to be arbiters of hope and optimism for our anxious, angry, or overwhelmed clients. The confluence of the pandemic and all of its medical, socioeconomic, and mental health reverberations, along with unprecedented national divisiveness, rage, and destruction has taken a profound toll on us as individuals, families, communities, and as a country. For clients who were already grappling with pre-existing depression, anxiety, addiction, unresolved trauma, financial struggles or feelings of loneliness or being disenfranchised, the ongoing events and circumstances in our country and around the world have rekindled and exacerbated their pain and suffering. As therapists we had to find ways to compartmentalize our own fears and anxieties to stay present, effective, and positive for our clients. And most of us were forced to communicate that positivity and maintain a sense of connection to our clients through inherently de-personalizing computer screens.
I want to validate how challenging and exhausting this has been, and to commend all of you for your extraordinary ongoing commitment to your clients and your work. And despite ongoing troubling events, I am choosing to look to the future with gratitude, optimism, and hope. I have heard myself saying repeatedly to clients,
let’s focus on what you can control, how you can continue to find purpose and meaning in your life, how you can concretely maintain a connection to the people and things you love.
Although countless frightening things have taken place this past year, the meaning-making that we bring to those events still matters a great deal and will have lasting impact on our thoughts, feelings and behavioral choices.
Now more than ever, our greatest asset and tool is the therapeutic relationship. Through client-therapist interactions we model:
- compassion and non-judgment;
- the right to be seen and heard;
- communication that is respectful of differences;
- an appreciation for strengths and resiliency;
- a belief in the possibility of working through pain and healing;
- and the power of kind words and actions.
I choose to believe that as we give our clients repeated experiences that are reparative and help them to feel, on a visceral level, the power of human interactions that are safe, supportive, and loving, a positive domino effect will take hold. Slowly, those compassionate interactions will be replayed with other people in their lives and will begin to permeate their self-talk. When we help our clients to safely navigate the present while reminding them to also keep their eyes on a future that is brighter, that encouragement and optimism can go a long way.
And as we work hard to help our clients with that precarious balance, we must continue to notice our own process, taking our own emotional temperature, and making sure we are giving ourselves the nurturance, comfort, compassion, and care that will enable us to stay resourced, effective, creative, and strong. Please remember that our professional efficacy is contingent upon the extent to which we personally take care of ourselves. Limiting exposure to violent and upsetting imagery and divisive social media, getting enough sleep and good nutrition, finding outlets for physical movement and creativity, and focusing on things that have nothing to do with trauma are essential to our physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.
My wish for all of us and for our country is a New Year that holds the promise of renewal, safety, compassion, acceptance, growth, greater wisdom, and peace in our hearts, our homes, and our communities.