Life changed drastically in March when shelter in place began in the Bay Area. Our lives continue to be impacted in multiple and ongoing ways since then.
One of those ways is that psychotherapy is now conducted via video ( or by phone). In many ways therapy is the same, and in other ways it is different. We are still two people having a confidential and evocative conversation about your life. And yet meeting on video has literally altered the way we see each other and the ways we are able to interact.
There is a certain intimacy about meeting in our homes, seeing bits and pieces of our lives outside the office. There may be interruptions: children, pets, doorbells, partners, roommates. Privacy and good WiFi may be issues at times. Video platforms are not perfect and there can be interruptions, poor quality video or audio, or wavy Zoom wallpaper.
Rituals have changed. Beginnings and endings of sessions are no longer punctuated by being met in the waiting room, walking to and from the office door, sitting down, getting up, the information that comes from being physically in the presence of another. Instead we both log into Zoom and you wait to be admitted to the call. There is often a hand wave at the end of the call, a poignant new ritual to end a session instead of walking out the door.
There is no longer time spent getting to and from the office, or in the waiting room before sessions; this was often a time to muse, think, feel, to be with yourself before and after your session. Now you have to purposefully make transition time, which I highly recommend.
We are now literally talking heads to each other. I had a newer client comment recently that she has never seen more than a portrait view of me! Our faces are life size on the screen, much closer than we would be with each other in the office. There is often more eye contact than there might be in the office, where you might look away more frequently for various reasons .
Recently I have begun going into the office a couple of days a week to work virtually. Clients who previously met me in my office have commented happily "You are in your office!" It is a familiar place, formerly as much a part of the therapy as the two of us were, a place that holds their secrets, sorrows, joys, hopes and fears.
And thankfully we are adaptable beings! Video psychotherapy is a different experience in many ways, yet also still the same two people connecting in whatever way we have available during this strange and unsettling time. I am grateful that psychotherapy is still possible, even more important and essential during these times.
Contact me if you would like to try video psychotherapy
And people stayed at home
And read books
And they rested
And did exercises
And made art and played
And learned new ways of being
And stopped and listened more deeply.
Someone meditated, someone prayed
Someone met their shadow
And people began to think differently
And people healed.
And in the absence of people who
Lived in ignorant ways
Dangerous, meaningless and heartless,
The earth also began to heal.
And when the danger ended and
People found themselves
They grieved for the dead
And made new choices
And dreamed of new visions
And created new ways of living
And completely healed the earth
Just as they were healed.
- Kitty O'Meara
With these slender threads
We touch each other
With infinite acts
The threads are spun
The threads embrace
Weaving an exquisite tapestry
Of caring and compassion
With its warmth
The threads are strong
- Connie Latch
Yes there is fear. Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying. Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
But, they say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them….
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic.
The birds are singing again. The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming, And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
–Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM (a friar in Ireland), March 13, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic is the first we’ve had to deal with in the US. Our routines are disrupted, the economy is in trouble, many people’s livelihoods are threatened, parents are scrambling to provide child care for kids, stores have long lines and empty shelves as people panic- buy. We see images of how it has ravaged other countries and fear for our own safety and well-being, and that of our families and communities.
Most of us are not used to this kind of chaos and uncertainty. People have different levels of tolerance for the unknown and for uncertainty as well as different amounts of social and financial resources. Social distancing is a new concept and practice for us, which while helping to keep the virus from spreading, can create its own problems of social isolation, depression and anxiety.
Fear and panic are at least as contagious as the virus itself. While anxiety itself is a natural response to a challenging situation, making us alert and helping us respond in ways that keep us safe and functioning, it becomes problematic when it becomes chronic or morphs into panic.
People especially susceptible to extreme anxiety or panic about the virus often have suffered some trauma in their lives. You have already lived through something extreme and unprecedented and the current situation creates a PTSD type response. If you tend to be an anxious person or are a highly sensitive person, you may also tend to be more prone to catastrophizing and panic.
Without our usual routines and structure, it becomes especially important to create new ones to help us manage these unprecedented, uncertain times with as much equanimity as possible. Below are some suggestions as well as resources.
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley