My clients are struggling with two pandemics: COVID-19 and the struggles with racial injustice here [in the United States].
I had a busy and active life before the lockdown began. I work at two different locations throughout the week and would spend 30 to 35 hours at work. I also had a healthy social life and I am involved with my church.
Now, I am working from home and our clients have decreased because they don’t care for remote sessions. Clients are used to in-person sessions and it is difficult to transition from that to interacting through a device. So, a few of them prefer to start once we begin working at the office again.
Even though I am not at the office and my schedule is not as hectic, it is still rigorous and sometimes I feel like I am doing more because my clients are struggling. My schedule is flexible because everyone is at home, which means I’m not restricted by office times. Sometimes, I have clients five hours apart and sometimes they’re back to back.
The pandemic created space for people to experience racism.
While some find this time difficult, other clients were OK with it, welcoming the break from an overwhelming way of life. They were grateful to be forced to sit down and breathe and not have to be in a work environment because some of their work environments were toxic.
A lot of my clients are black women or women of colour, and most recently are struggling with seeing racism. They are tired and overwhelmed and are unable to manage their feelings. It is hard to function, go to work, attend Zoom meetings, or engage with people. The pandemic created space for people to experience racism. There are no distractions, no entertainment, you are not going to work. Everybody is at home and they are feeling this deeply because there’s nothing to distract them from it.
I’m a black woman and I have my feelings about what is happening as well. Sometimes it is challenging to hold space for my clients because I am experiencing similar feelings, and I need to ensure that the professional boundary is upheld.
I strongly rely on compartmentalization as a therapist. I do not bring work home with me to ensure there is no bleeding of the two, so working from home has made this tricky. [With the lockdown] there was no separation or compartmentalization. Things were happening on the other side of the door when I was in sessions, which isn’t something that I was accustomed to when I went to an office.
I need a space to unload, where I can be free and express what I’m going through.
I have my own therapist, which I think every therapist should, just like doctors have doctors. I need a space to unload, where I can be free and express what I’m going through.
I also try to be aware of how I’m feeling and give myself permission to feel it. If I’m watching the news and something angers me, I will talk it out. If I’m on social media and something makes me sad, I give myself permission to feel sad. I know that we’re all feeling a range of emotions and they’re changing frequently. So, I make sure that I’m aware of what I’m feeling and I don’t go into a session unaware of it to ensure that I don’t get triggered by my client.
Something extremely important to me is to limit my intake [of news and social media] to protect myself from retraumatization. I made the personal decision not to watch the videos of black people being killed because I don’t want that to be on my mind.
All of this is overwhelming. There is no ‘should’ for how you process this, you have to give yourself permission to feel whatever it is that you’re feeling. Allow yourself to have your own authentic experience.
Ashlee Byous is a Los Angeles based marriage and family therapist. As told to Shikha Shah.