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).