You don’t need me to tell you how hard the past year and a half has been. Hour after hour, day after day, week after week, I held the space for my clients’ anxiety, anger, sadness and fear about the pandemic, racism, the election and its aftermath and everything else that we were trying to deal with in the first place. Together we’ve waded through all of that, along with the best and worst aspects of this new era of telehealth. I’ve seen it all – clients with that just-rolled-out-of-bed look, messy buns and half-eaten breakfasts waiting beside their keyboards, eyes on me but ears tuned to the next room where their kids were homeschooling. We’ve made it through endless rounds of “can you hear me now?” and wifi interruptions that always seemed to happen at the worst possible moment….”And so I have realized that all along what I really wanted from my mom was…” – insert swirling circle of buffering. #telehealthfail. I’ve even seen more than I ever wanted to see of the business end of a cat who photobombed the camera.
The good news is we persevered. And we’re making it. We’re figuring it out. All of it. And we’re doing it together. More than once I have said to my clients something to the effect of, this is one time in our experience when I am going through the same things you’re going through at the same time.
Therapists differ on how much they disclose about themselves, and on the visibility spectrum I’m fairly progressive. (Shout out to all my fellow #moderntherapists!) Over the course of this year, I have found myself wanting to share my own sense of vulnerability with my clients for purposes of validating theirs. So in that spirit, here a few things that this therapist wants people to know.
- I’m exhausted too.
I am not immune from all of this. Some days I don’t think I have it in me to hold everything I need to hold and also hold everything you need me to hold. I have been aware on more than one occasion throughout the year that my empathy well felt all dried up and empty. I’m not proud of that, and sometimes I worry about what that felt like on the other side of the screen.
- I can do this.
Despite everything that is going on, I know I can make it through this. I know I can continue to thrive and show up for myself and for you. I can be flexible, pivot and learn new things. Before 2020 I had never done a telehealth session in my life. If you had told me I would have a 100% online practice I would’ve said you were crazy! But that is exactly what has happened, and my clients have continued to make progress, grow and heal. Or at least that what’s they tell me. This has taught me that we can succeed even in less than ideal circumstances.
- I can practice what I preach.
I don’t just talk about self-care. I do it myself by sticking to my schedule, having good boundaries, not overbooking myself, giving myself time to respond to requests, saying no and making sure I have enough time away from work. So when I am not available to take you on as a client, or to see you during the evening, or when I don’t respond to a non-urgent email over the weekend, or when I take a day off, please understand that I am taking care of myself. And that is good for both of us.
- I don’t have all the answers (and I don’t have to).
Early in the pandemic, many of us were doing the “what do you want to learn from this experience” kind of supporting. I cringe when I think of that now. We were doing everything we knew how to do as therapists to help people cope with everything going on. But at some point that all changed. Eventually, people just felt worse. My clients started going back to old ways – relapses, unhealthy relationships they had previously left behind, you name it. And the normal strategies didn’t work anymore. And that was a pretty crappy feeling. But that allowed me to be able to say to my clients that 1) yes, this sucks and 2) you’re not alone.
I am not perfect, and I’m nobody’s savior. This year has taught me that more anything. So next time I show up for your session with that just-rolled-out-of-bed look, messy bun and half-eaten breakfast waiting beside my keyboard, you’ll know you’re not alone. And we’re both going to be OK.