We’re in a pandemic, and we have no choice: Although most patients who are unhappy, anxious, depressed, or terrified would prefer face-to-face counseling, those of us who need help sorting things out have to get used to using e-therapy.
Therapists have had to adjust to e-therapy as well. Interestingly, I am finding that my patients are more agile and accepting of the change than I am. (I attribute this to my age.)
Extreme situation like this pandemic can amplify a lot of underlying issues people have: anxiety, depression, PTSD, relationship conflicts, self-worth, trust, feelings about life choices, regrets about life, addictions.
And everyone is suffering. No one is immune. Change is hard, and this is a time of dramatic change and overwhelming uncertainty.
People who live alone are incredibly lonely. Being touched by another person who cares for us is a powerful, healing force. It grounds us and makes us feel protected. It keeps us in the present instead of being swept away by frightening “what ifs” about the future.
When someone can say, “I don’t have to do this alone. Someone is here for me,” it’s like glue that keeps us together when the world is falling apart.
People are isolated from friends, children, grandchildren. The touch deprivation creates a sense of alienation and ennui. People are not talking about this, as if it is shameful. But it’s worth getting help to talk about it.
It’s also a time of enforced physical intimacy for couples and families (enforced intimacy not in the normal sense, the happy-touch sense, but in the sense of being trapped in a fixed space.) Many or most of us who have partners are noticing some of their annoying traits. And yes, some of us are driving each other nuts.
For those of us who have a difficult time putting feelings into words, we run the danger of shutting down altogether. It’s important to get help in talking, not to shut down.
It’s important not to use drugs or alcohol to escape, because they impact the immune system.
This is a time to stretch our “personal growth” muscles and deal with our unhealthy habits, because we need to be strong enough to fight off the virus should it attack. It’s also a good time to deal with old issues, if you have the right support.
I actually left the United States on March 2 for Auckland, New Zealand to do two days of teaching for Sex Therapy New Zealand. My partner and I then traveled around New Zealand, planning a trip which would end on March 28.
The trip got derailed on March 25, as New Zealand’s Prime Minister shut the country down tightly. We were on lockdown in Christchurch and Auckland for a few days. We were lucky to get back into the United States on March 29.
I arrived home to a scary new clinical world on March 30. Now, nine days later, I am growing accustomed to providing virtual counseling. I am seeing individuals and couples using a program called doxy.me, which provides patients the privacy that HIPAA requires.
People are relieved to have a place to continue their emotional growth. (Some new patients, who don’t live close by, are happy to be able to “see” me without driving in traffic for three hours.)
But all of us, I think, are longing for the time when we will be in each other’s physical presence again. There is something incredibly grounding in actual eye contact, not mediated through a screen. Thankfully, that day will come again.
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