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A Glance into a Therapist’s Window in the Time of COVID-19

Most of us have neatly tucked away struggles, hidden below high functionality, and practical intellectual ideologies. All it takes sometimes is a nudge from the universe, an unplanned unforeseen stressor to push everything over the edge just enough. 

Usually we find that nudge in the more common heard of hurdles that pop up in things like work stress, health issues, relationship problems, grief, etc. COVID-19 however opened up a collective stressor that the entire world looked up and faced at the same time, some up close on the front line and others removed from a distance. 

As a therapist, having her own career battles with the virus and shifting a work that was once felt impossible to imagine without sacred human presence to merely connecting through a screen, I have been able to witness many lives up close through this transition (as up close you get on Skype). And one thing that has really solidified for me in the face of even a shared collective adversity is that no two souls are the same. In fact, far from it.

At a time when we are both often removed in the safety of our homes but also exposed directly to the crisis through live media, all responses can feel like under and overreactions. In an article by Scott Berinato circulating the media and gaining fast traction from readers, he likens our emotional reactions to Kessler’s 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The large number of people resonating with it is a direct reflection of how desperate each of us are to understand our experience. And there is a relief that comes with giving that emotion a name. 

For anyone who has experienced grief it is well understood that these stages do not occur in a linear fashion, nor are they mutually exclusive. I feel in just a matter of weeks this link to grief is gaining huge popularity due to the very simplistic but essential model of acceptance. This is the act of being able to take a moment and identify your feelings and have them validated. When we do this for ourselves it can be likened to the simple act of looking into a child’s eyes and telling them that their pain/emotion makes complete sense. Those of us who have received this, as well as those of that are left longing for it well into our adult lives, understand the power it holds. It is this same model that therapy hinges upon — a space is created for our feelings with our therapist and given creed. This tiny yet enormously impactful process is something we often fail to do for ourselves.

I see the ability to liken grief to the pandemic as a process of allowing the fifth stage of acceptance to start to occur simultaneously with any of the other four stages one might be experiencing. And while the value of this is beyond doubt, I would like to introspect that it can still be far too simplistic. It sparks the process of identifying and owning one’s experience of loss and yet the universality of it is both liberating and limiting. It leaves little space for the unique personalized experience each of us is having, if left unexplored further.  

This brings me to the 6th stage of grief that has been recently added by Kessler, through his own personal experience of the loss of his son, meaning. I choose to view this stage not as another way of coping, such as preluding to why one’s God had a good reason to create a pandemic in 2020. But rather an application to all other stages. What is the meaning that is assigned with us experiencing the other stages/emotions? Why has this specific emotion or these series of thoughts erupted for you?

What has been remarkable to be reminded of is that, however universal the emotions faced in this life threatening pandemic, our response to it is driven so strongly from our own prior emotional experiences. Those that have shaped the way we see and understand the world, and then even the crisis we currently face. I will share some of the more significantly emerging emotional experiences brought about by the lockdown (those who have primarily not been threatened by illness or immediate financial crisis at this stage).

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The lockdown will forever go down in history as a time when we sat in our homes, alone with ourselves. Unable to be consumed by all the regular countless man-made systems of school/work/socializing, and the western era of busyness that has colonized and dominated this globalized world has come to a complete standstill, almost overnight. A mandatory meditation of sorts. And for those of who meditate what we know very well is that the starting point is never easy, it can be painfully difficult in fact to sit with ourselves and our own breath for those few minutes even. 

Time, which has been the most valuable commodity of the modern world, has become vastly accessible. Many flung quickly into a sigh of relief and sunk back into their couches feeling like the weight of the world had been swiftly lifted off them simply by being allowed to place pause in their lives — a sign perhaps that most of us are silently struggling. Immersed and invested in this all too cluttered and hurried way of living in the state of occupied. And while this was nice and cushiony for some, many started to feel less alone and more crowded with their own thoughts, with no convenient way to avoid them. After all, years and years of developing unconscious defenses and coping skills had not really accounted or prepared for a lockdown. When our method of coping fails us, it is often a moment of great introspection, examining wounds buried deep within.

A sparkling variety of different thoughts and feelings emerged for each person who sat with themselves. Those who had traumatic associations with uncertainty found themselves struggling with sleepless nights or a deep experience of anxiety. Will daddy come home again can be a crippling thought of helplessness when a child has no control.  

Others who had lived exquisitely planned lives with no room to ever feel out of control dove into an abyss of endless possible and structured algorithms for the future. Eventually questions arose, for perhaps the first time for some, about why feeling in control had become so paramount to their lives. Others who relinquished control more easily faired a little better from the immediate trauma of unforeseen change.

Some of us who have come to learn and live the mantra that idleness is a sin jumped quickly to creating stringent routines. Storage cupboards found themselves cleaned and excessive online work appeared to pick up. The nagging voice inside our heads toward productivity can quickly become toxic when under house arrest. So some started the long haul glancing momentarily within at where that voice might have come from.

For those who grew up in a constant state of anxiety, a comfort in taking a crisis management role emerged. And they fell calmly back into a familiar world they once knew. Others who had mastered the skill of disassociating from a stressor previously in their life felt conveniently numb.

People were met with many intimate questions about the relationship they have with themselves as well as those they were incarcerated with (and of course our relationship within ourselves mirrors all those around us). Home felt safe for many but haunting for those not so lucky. Feelings that had otherwise been pushed aside started to emerge as acute. Couples were left with the delightful or daunting task of acknowledging their disconnection or deep satisfaction having lost bonding time.

Parents might have noticed that their relationship with their children was perhaps a direct reflection of their relationship with their own inner child. How much space and acknowledgement could be imparted in a moment of crisis?

Some who measured their worth in performance felt dumbfounded when their work came to a crashing halt. It became a loss of identity.

Individuals who felt socially marginalized felt relief when others could not leave them out anymore.

The strugglers of social anxiety felt liberated from the drudgery of human contact and some felt even more connected and at ease with this new e-contact.  

A large number were faced with the existential crisis we were all born with and humanly designed to conveniently not acknowledge (if so lucky): the inevitability of death. Some were consumed with the fear of their own demise, and others were paralyzed by fear of loved ones dying. Long lost resentments and feelings of affection in these relationships re-surfaced in the mind and heart. 

Many found themselves reconnecting with a deep sense of what felt more important, when all other worldly layers are scraped away. Time was spent noticing nature, connecting with children, reaching out to long lost friendships, touching hidden, buried away feelings from the past and some even sharing words of unspoken love. God became alive for many, and despised and lost by others.

In spite what our emotions might have brought we are all the while immersed in this new dichotomy. That of living deeply intimate lives with those within our home, while all external relationships transpire merely electronically. Much of how this might shape our emotional world is still yet to be explored, as we’re just two weeks into a lockdown here in Lahore, Pakistan.  

One thing is for certain though, whatever might have come up for you from leisurely time with loved ones, to fear panic or even conflict — there is a such an immensely important need to create pause and reflect. Because it is much assured that while it might be tempting to stop at labeling it as a universal feeling, it is much more deeply solely and uniquely within you and what you were carrying already. So I urge you to apply this 6th stage of finding the meaning in what that emotion in your story is telling you today.

And, as I am sitting here penning these thoughts, I am well aware that it is still a luxury to refer to this new way of living as one single experience in our lives. In reality, we do not really know how long this new “normal” might be for and what course it might take. But we can safely assume that when we emerge, however soon, it would have surely altered a great deal of how we interact within ourselves and the world.

Sitting either isolated or with our immediate family at home has also resulted in a wave of excess screen time. While children adapt quickly to online teachers, the teacher teaches her entire class and performs her role alone in her bedroom in front of a camera. Those of us who once resisted online interactions are cornered into using it as a way of coping, a way to get the only human interaction we can for now, and for many the only way to their work is through the same means. For most of us here, this is just the beginning of the transition.

Much of how this unfolds and what comes along with it, is still unknown. So for now I’ll raise my glass to the screen with you and toast to good health. 

A Glance into a Therapist’s Window in the Time of COVID-19


Jasmyn Rana (M.Couns)

Jasmyn Rana is a Relational Integrative Psychotherapist, with her Masters and training from Monash, Australia. She has spent much of the last decade establishing a thriving private practice in Lahore, Pakistan. Along side being an accredited supervisor (CPCAB, UK), she has lectured at a university level, run psychotherapy certifications and diplomas as well as numerous group therapies. Her specialized area of interest as well as passion includes working with couples and adults.

email: [email protected]

Instragram: jasmynrana

APA Reference
Rana (M.Couns), J. (2020). A Glance into a Therapist’s Window in the Time of COVID-19. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 6, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/a-glance-into-a-therapists-window-in-the-time-of-covid-19/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Apr 2020 (Originally: 9 Apr 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Apr 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.