COVID-19 has impacted people worldwide. There has been sadness and tragedy, loneliness from social isolation and increased anxiety and depression. Many people I’ve spoken to have found positive learning within pandemic restrictions, alongside their frustrations and limitations; some finding new hobbies, others learning to appreciate slowing down, and others yet, forming deeper connections through intentional communication with friends and family. People speak about flexibility and adaptability and the strength of perseverance.
As both a school counsellor and a therapist in private practice, I have pivoted my services several times. Getting used to the myriad ways of observing and tracking clients took patience, determination and dedication. It has been fatiguing sometimes. However, of all the things that I have experienced throughout this pandemic, nothing is more positive than the impact of the client/therapist sharing this experience.
Typically, a client arrives in the office with a story to share, feelings to unpack, meaning to discover, a pathway forward to be found. The therapist develops rapport through active listening and empathy, and at times, similar enough life experiences to draw upon. I attempt to ‘know’ my client through their eyes, words and feelings.
But through this period, my clients and I have been living in the same external circumstances. The playing field has been levelled – none of us have been spared the worry and fear of catching COVID-19 or losing someone to it. While as a therapist, I still have my set of skills and abilities, my clients were watching me deal with my own self in the moment.
Many professional conversations exist around therapists and personal disclosure. During lockdown, when my bedroom became my office, my clients learned that I have purple walls and that my daughter creates a lot of art. I also gained insight into my client’s lives. Many of my teen clients would lounge on their beds, permitting me to see posters and pictures, stuffed animals and other personal items. Body language revealed new messaging when clients were in their comfortable spaces and sometimes, words flowed more easily. I had clients apologize for messy spaces or comment that they had cleaned for my benefit. Clients have heard my cat howling so plaintively at the door, or once, my daughter enquiring what’s for dinner, forgetting that Tuesday evenings, I’m in session. We laughed over these things, and they were also beneficial lead-ins to deeper work around perfectionism, intimacy, parenting and longing. As one client shared, “there’s a different type of vulnerability in pivoting together.”
Along with getting used to wearing masks, hourly doses of hand sanitizer, working-from-home and missing family, these new dialogues created rich texture that helped build my client’s resiliency, alongside my own.