In March 2020, states shut down across the U.S. affecting us all. COVID-19 has been a part of our daily conversations, decisions, and thoughts for almost a year. The reality is that we are living through a historical event. The last time therapists and clients were all effected by an event like this was 20 years ago when 9/11 happened. Clients and therapists alike are living through the same crisis. And while the pandemic as affected us differently based on race, socioeconomic status, gender, and other factors, it has still affected us all.
This has brought therapy to an interesting place for therapists. Last March, Therapy Brands (a telehealth platform provider) saw a 4,300% increase in therapists using telehealth. With cases still rising, we can only assume that the percent has continued to rise. As social workers we operate under the NASW Code of Ethics. One of the ethical principles we are required to uphold is Importance of Human Relationships. We know that human relationships are vital to change, progress, and healing. Social workers seek to strengthen human relationships, especially with clients. With the pandemic making it unsafe for some therapists and clients to meet, there was a responsibility put on the therapists to find ways to establish, maintain, and strengthen their relationships with their clients without continuing to see them in person. We have seen first-hand the resilience and creativity of therapists during this season.
Tools used to create therapeutic environments via telehealth include:
· Attending online trainings for providing telehealth
· Creating confidential space in their homes while on lockdown
· Providing tech support to clients
· Having referrals ready for clients who weren’t comfortable for telehealth
· Offering sliding scale rates for clients who have lost jobs or had hours cut
· Acknowledging the strength in being able to observe clients in an environment that is comfortable for them
· Encouraging clients to move the conversation past the pandemic
Another decision therapists have been faced with during the pandemic is whether or not to self-disclose. It is understood that “golden rule” in therapy is it’s only appropriate when it benefits the client and their therapeutic journey. Self-disclosure can be therapeutically useful when used to build rapport and helps clients see their therapists as human. However, therapists may still be processing the pandemic which could lead to a self-serving way to process that isn’t appropriate. The decision to self-disclose can be difficult to navigate, but when done ethically could establish a connection through a historic event that we are all currently experiencing.
Questions to ask yourself to navigate self-disclosing about the effects of COVID-19:
· What is my intent?
· Will this cause stress to my client?
· Does this line up with my therapeutic boundaries?
· Does this benefit me or my client?
· Have I fully processed the pandemic outside of this conversation?
· Could what I am about to disclose be more beneficial in a different setting?
· Does this add to the client’s therapeutic experience?
As therapists, we are no strangers to hearing the importance of self-care. With the added pressure of navigating the trauma and grief of the pandemic in our own lives while still seeing clients, the importance of self-care is amplified. It can be difficult to practice self-care when your home as turned into your office or when your favorite coffee spot is take-out only. Self-care may also look different depending on how intensely the pandemic has affected your life. Therapy may be a part of your self-care now when you used to only participate in professional supervision. Or perhaps your self-care now includes taking breaks from social media when your news feed used to be a safe space without constant updates about COVID-19 statistics. Whatever your self-care looks like during this time, be sure to make it a priority.
Ways to incorporate self-care during this pandemic:
· Dedicate a room or space in your home where you aren’t working that is only for self-care
· Be flexible with your ideas of what self-care should look like
· Reach out to other therapists
· Build community through online platforms
· Utilize creative spaces to do self-care (ex. your car)
· Set work hour boundaries
· Give yourself grace
And lastly, be proud. Therapists have navigated providing therapy in a global pandemic without a road map. It hasn’t been done before. But we are still seeing people find freedom, healing, and hope in the midst of navigating COVID-19 through therapy. If you are a therapist reading this, thank you. If you are seeing a therapist and are reading this, we are proud of you. We are all navigating a pandemic, let's do this together.