Therapists freak out too from time to time. Sure, we bring in plenty of those skills we teach our clients. But we are human. We panic. We accept and don’t accept. We worry. We fluctuate between all emotions and shift and shuffle through thoughts. We arm ourselves with hobbies, interests, uplifting people. We feel on edge and can get cranky with those around us from time to time, while being exceptionally grateful for whoever we are quarantined with, and terribly miss who we are not able to see in person. I miss my office, the safe & soothing space it provides. I miss seeing my clients in person. I miss offering certain approaches, like EMDR for trauma therapy, and neurofeedback for self-regulation.
When cases of Covid-19 escalated, I decided to switch over to telehealth sessions with my clients as schools and universities closed one by one. I collected anything from my office I deemed helpful and feasible to use over video sessions. Workbooks, folders, checklists and assessments, books, decks of therapy card prompts, sound machines, all came home with me stuffed in those fabulous giant TJ Maxx tote bags. Regarding children, it was especially challenging deciding on what could work. I snagged my finger puppets, art therapy activities lists and supplies, but it would ultimately come down to relying on my imagination, stretching it to wider limits.
Questions dripped from my head: how could I hold my child clients’ attention spans for forty-five minutes when they had plenty of distractions surrounding them, week after week? Will I be interesting enough for the child and teen clients? Will my adult clients eventually run out of things to talk about with not much happening, and stop showing up? Will they be anxious and triggered, frantic and frazzled, difficult to guide them through something I was learning to navigate alongside them? Or will we be able to work on challenges we had yet to face together, or new ones surfacing due to the pandemic? And the ultimate question that always sprouts before the workday: how can I best help my clients today?
But I stepped up because you just do. As a therapist, you learn more than ever how to expect anything in a session regardless of your prepping beforehand. You must be flexible. Open. Compassionate. I reminded myself, above all, I can always offer my kindness, my empathy, and at this point, my humanness more than ever. And so, my confidence returned as I held their worries, fears, opinions, frustrations, confusion, sadness and tears, powerlessness and helplessness. Listened. Cared. Extended help between sessions with calls or texts. And often, just being there, being that safe space, is enough.
Of course, as much as I love my profession, it does pay the bills. I had concerns: if clients dropped, would I suffer financially? But my concerns, like wrinkles in a shirt, smoothed over as clients were in this boat with me, with no plans to quit their therapeutic journeys. Some clients have doubled up their sessions. Only a few said they would wait it out and return when we were back in the office and check-in as needed until then. Financially, I soon saw I was okay, something I am beyond appreciative for, and extraordinarily aware of how fortune I am. I find myself stating corny-feeling expressions, but it is true: thank God for telehealth.
And the kids! They surprised me, impressed me. They keep their weekly appointments, and often they ask, “wait, we are already done with ‘class’?” So, the art and games and “talk show” interviews with therapeutic prompts and creative collaborations are working. Apparently, most types of playing can still be done over a video call.
I am so proud of the kids and teens. As difficult as it has been for them—especially for certain age groups that understand but do not understand, unable to fully grasp what is going on (although adults can experience this too, just on a different level)—they are still trudging onward, adjusting. And even with occasional tantrums and regressive behaviors, as expected, they are motivated to continue their self-work. Humans in general, but especially children, require and crave structure. But they are also built for resiliency and survival and therefore figure it out, sometimes better than we as adults can. Helping them adapt and seeing how they already had in their own ways has been inspiring and helped me as well. They bring sunshine to these days; I often tear up with joy or from laughter during their sessions.
And the young adults and adult clients—I am beyond proud of them too! This has been exceptionally difficult for parents, for singles living alone, for those suffering with mental illness, for those living with a high-risk family member, or those living with someone Covid positive. I have a client who lost a family member because of it. A client who lost a fellow staff member. A client who tested positive himself, and thank God, he recovered.
Above all, my clients are adapting even if they do not realize they are. They are much stronger than they think. Many are at the point now, where they are back to working on non-pandemic related struggles. In certain circumstances, they have more time now than ever to do so.
Those who survived traumatic experiences are triggered in ways they did not expect to be. Issues are resurfacing, or new ones are being discovered altogether, steering our sessions in new directions. On the flip side, various clients were surprised to find themselves exceptionally prepared due to some of their traumatic experiences or chaotic upbringing. Their resiliency and already-established survival skills shined through for navigating disarray.
I say it often, but it stands true: it’s an honor to be invited into my client’s lives. And now their homes. It’s been warming. It adds another element to our alliance to be invited, even if virtually, to where they live—and vice versa, for them to see my home office and my dog who makes her celebrity guest appearances every now and again. I have seen tours of homes (mostly from the children’s point of view), which is beyond adorable. I’ve seen lots of pets. I have been “taken” inside cars, or outside in yards. I have been in the inside of closets, dropped under beds, put in dollhouses, playrooms, bedrooms (now you can see part of why the children always crack me up).
Now we await the adjustment of reopening. The fears, the desires, the swings between impatience and patience. We are adapting together and will continue to, must continue to. No one should be alone in this.
As much as I’m told I help my clients,
I want the world to know: they help me too.