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  • Writer's pictureKen Ribotsky

The COVID pandemic as therapist.

Updated: Jul 5, 2020

Who could have ever predicted that it would take a global pandemic to uncover emotional and relational issues that lurk in all of our psyches? The COVID-19 pandemic has literally shut the world down forcing many people to stay home and others to put themselves in harm’s way by helping to fight the virus or to simply keep the world moving. The toll that this chapter in our history will take on us as a society, may be impossible to understand until years into the future.

Surgical face masks
Pandemic daily gear.

In my practice I am seeing people grappling with a level emotional stress that is rarely experienced. Some have lost their family income, some have lost businesses that they had worked for years to build—all gone in a few days. Some will bounce back. Yet still, if they do bounce back, the trauma left behind by the impact of COVID may stick with them forever. Those on the front lines such as health care workers, are experiencing a new level of worry about their health and that of their family as well. Each day they show up for work they are risking everything.

Emerging from the quarantined life is a series of accelerated or accidentally triggered emotional stressors. Many parents are struggling through the new experience of becoming a part time teacher and a full-time entertainer. No break from the kids is exhausting, especially if you have toddlers and never thought you would be home all day. Couples are getting on each other’s nerves, forced to be together without the distractions that come from normal day-to-day living. They are certainly learning how much they really do or do not like each other.

The personal toll and sacrifice is different for everyone. What we all have in common is experiencing uncertainty for the future. This pandemic has not only shown us the fatal flaws in our society’s systems, it has revealed flaws in our personal beliefs about what is important in our lives as well as what the future might hold. COVID has brought us face to face with our own mortality in a new and unsettling way. Relying on the cooperation of others to manage this crisis and provide safety has us feeling a lack of control and the need to somehow take it back.

As a therapist I am looking for the silver linings. I am glad to report that I can see some hope in all of the mess that the world is in right now. I can report that I do see couples learning how to reconnect and share their lives. Parents who typically are spending most of the day away from their kids, now have a new opportunity to bond with them. The children have an opportunity that is often fleeting– getting to know their parents better. Seeing them in ways they don’t typically do, especially at work. The impact of this level of engagement in parenting will forever change the kids who are currently bouncing off the walls and refusing to eat broccoli again today. During these tough times many are learning about true friendship. Who has managed to keep in touch? Who has checked in to make sure I am ok? Who is busy curating their Instagram feed? Beyond our individual homes, society has an opportunity to fix deficiencies that the pandemic has shone its light on– and there are so many. What will come of COVID? Will there be further resurgences and global mayhem? We don’t know for sure but the evidence and science seem to point to a resounding– yes.

The advice I have been giving about managing during this crisis is fairly simple. Cherish the ones who are close to you; reach out to those who may be lonely or isolated; accept that it is ok to feel strange about all of this; allow yourself to grieve for the loss of lifestyle, businesses, and rigid expectations about the future. This last one about expectations is, I believe, the key to happiness during times like this and beyond. Now is a great time to take stock of life’s gifts. Change what we don’t like, cultivate what we want more of. If ever there was a time to take good care of yourself, cut yourself some slack and think about what is important, now is as good a time as any. The COVID pandemic will certainly help us all learn how to find our resilience.


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