After two years of masks, lockdowns, and social isolation, many are finding this most recent pandemic wave to be the hardest.
“I’m hearing people all say the same thing: they’re tired, they’re frustrated, they’re feeling burnt out,” says Registered Psychotherapist, Janna Comrie.
Comrie is the director of a counseling center in Ontario, Canada where she and her team work with individuals, couples, and families who’ve experienced trauma. Many of their clients are front-line workers: first responders, call-center employees, healthcare workers, and Comrie has seen firsthand how this wave has impacted their mental health. “Clients who were already struggling with issues like depression and anxiety, PTSD, and caregiver burnout are just beyond taxed. [And many] who were doing well have started getting worse again.”
So, what has life been like for therapists like Comrie who are supporting others during a time of crisis? “As a mental health professional, I shouldn’t use this word, but it’s been crazy,” she says. “One minute we know exactly what we’re doing and the next minute the rules change. I hate to use the word ‘pivot’ because I’m so sick of that word. But there’s been a lot of pivoting.”
That being said, Comrie believes that the pandemic has made herself and her colleagues become better therapists. “We’ve had to get very creative and be flexible in the way we work with clients.”
One of the biggest changes has been shifting counseling sessions from in-office to online. “I think that [virtual therapy] is important because there are many remote communities where you just don’t have the access to mental health support,” says Comrie. “[Working with clients virtually] allows more access to therapy generally which is great.”
Comrie says that while she “really likes” doing virtual therapy, it can get a little bit tricky. “If somebody is sitting in my office and they start tapping their foot, I know right away something’s going on and I can choose to address it,” she says. “But if I’m only seeing somebody from the chest up, [I may] miss some of those subtle body language cues.” So, how has Comrie adapted her practice to make up for this? “I look for very subtle cues in their face or tension in their neck and shoulders. I’ll ask, ‘what’s going on within you right now?’” She now encourages her clients to be aware of their bodies and to let her know if they’re doing things like wringing their hands.
Comrie recommends that if you’re currently looking for a therapist to help you cope, check licensing boards and registries of mental health professionals in your area and get on multiple waitlists. Also, don’t be afraid to shop around. Not every therapist is the right fit. If you’re not sure someone gels with you, try someone else.
The absolute best thing anyone can do right now to fight pandemic fatigue is self-care. That includes going for a walk, getting good sleep, taking time to laugh, and most of all, keeping an open mind. Not everything you did early in the pandemic will work this time around so you may need to try something new. “My clients are just amazing people, they really are. I love watching how resilient the human spirit is.”