"As a frightened man in a burning boat has only one way to the rest of his life, we must move with courage through the walls of flame into the greater sea." - Mark Nepo, Book of Awakening.
Reflecting back on the past year of COVID, I have begun to recognize our own wall of flame we have had to transverse as mental health practitioners. As the pandemic spread its way through 2020, I watched, responded and reacted like everyone else as COVID forced us to our knees. COVID began to turn us all “inside out” and we as a mental health community had to re-invent our structures to mental health and care for others through life-altering transitions Entirely shifting to all online therapy sessions, working in offices with protective face masks, and bracing for what each day might unfold. All the while still trying to build rapport with patients, while staff behind the scenes were reeling with the dramatic administrative and regulation changes.
And then as COVID raged on, even as practitioners, we had the uncomfortable position of not knowing our own outcomes to the future. We had our own uncertainties to face. Patients shared stories of certain unexpected fears, unseen trauma, losing loved ones, and grieving unwelcome change. And we as therapists found ourselves counseling others about uncertainties, when in fact we as mental health practitioners did not know what the future would hold. "My marriage is in trouble due to COVID", "My business didn’t make it through COVID", "COVID brought me to a place of despair". These all-too familiar phrases became the "norms" for the harsh reality of what was happening in our individual lives, our families, our homes, and our society and global culture. COVID placed a large glaring spotlight on our personal lives, and our professional work.
But then there is the amazing human spirit. Resilience in the face of invasive trauma and ongoing uncertainty.
Practitioners and patients alike found the courage to jump out of the burning boat and into the greater sea beyond. I heard heroic stories of people helping others with their businesses, families re-assessing their priorities for greater relationships, marriages finding honesty and renewal, neighbors bolstering businesses in their local communities. As a practitioner, clients continued to astound me with their boldness towards unexpected hardships, and the internal ability to make profound change in spite of their pandemic grief, loss and fear.
So now here we are. The summer of 2021. Facing another transition as we return to "normalcy". People once fearing their social anxieties slowly began the trek back to meeting others face to face. Returning to work, visiting with old friends and family, traveling again and starting to entertain and attend restaurants and concerts. For some, it’s hard to go back to “normalcy” when many have felt isolated and without social interaction. Even the TV show, Saturday Night Live ran an "socially tense" skit that portrayed people at a post-COVID party where many had "forgotten how to have 'normal' face to face conversations". It can feel wonderful but also strange to be back in a crowd of people. It’s understandable and perhaps humorous. but also painfully true and transparent.
COVID has been brutal, ugly and yet in many cases utterly transformative.
"COVID re-assigned my priorities", "COVID showed me I need more time with my children”, “COVID helped reshape my priorities for what really counts”. Families found more time together, less time commuting to jobs, and brought more light to real depth and personal connections.
So, as mental health practitioners we have to keep up with the ever-changing sea of change. I know I need to continue to be more flexible, to learn and reach and develop my emotional and mental skills towards an online presence. How can I reach someone in depression and anxiety through the laptop screen? What are the emotional skills and responses I must continue to develop in the shift to increasing onscreen therapy sessions?
Placing the fingers on the pulse of our new normal, we need an ONLINE PRESENCE. It is essential in my opinion, that online therapy is going to continue to grow and be imperative for the mental health community. We aren’t going back. Things may seem familiar but only just vaguely.
There is a lot of juggling going on. A switch we have to make as wellness practitioners. We have to become good at it and quickly.
The future of our mental health industry is being stretched as never before. Each state and its licensing regulation process will also need to be considered. We, as mental health professionals are being turned inside out.
But on the positive side, isn’t that sometimes what we need to further the deeper work? To be more effective, more available, more transparent in our listening, and our attempts at healing and reaching others for the greater good?
COVID wreaked havoc on all of us and we are in the “recovery” stage. My questions to all of us is, what do we hold on to? What do we let go of because it's time for change in our personal lives, families and relationships? How can we implement greater access, more transparency and compassion through an online professional mental wellness presence?
So yes, the flaming boat is there. And yes, we have found the boldness to jump through the fire walls into the greater sea. And now we must as practitioners begin to tread those churning, unpredictable waters and discover how we can bring ourselves and others safely and confidently to shore. I know our work as mental health practitioners has never been more crucial, more challenged, and ultimately and in the most positive way, more transformative.
Let’s get out into the open sea together.