September 29, 2020
Mental health treatment is a silent front line. Therapists tend to advocate for authenticity, honesty, and vulnerability. Let’s find out just how deep that rabbit hole actually goes...
COVID-19 has been the most challenging clinical work of my career and, in turn, it has had a significant impact on my own mental health struggles.
In 20 years of practice, there has never been a singular event that has literally impacted every one of the clients that I was working with, in addition to impacting myself. This “singular new reality” is confusing and complex. In addition to COVID-19, we are also faced with racial and ethnic challenges, economic uncertainty and suffering, and political indignation. This entire “storm” makes clinical work especially intense right now. Because of the inherent mutuality of this experience, maintaining professionalism, safe boundaries, and resisting the desire towards over-identification with our clients is taxing and has its consequences. Healthy coping mechanisms usually involve self-advocation and not simply self-soothing behaviors.
Additionally, therapy via Zoom in my private home allows for an unconventional privacy breach. This has felt overly intrusive at times and led me to become markedly more “internal” and introverted as a means of maintaining my own personal sacredness. These are not easy times personally or professionally, and I’m aware that as I reach deeper into the depths of my clinical well to help provide peace, solace, and understanding for my clients, I am also struggling, scared, and hurt.
In addition to therapists, this is also an extremely difficult time for many others. As you think about better ways to take care of your own needs, it’s important to understand the difference between between “self-soothing” and “self-care”.
Self-soothing can generally be thought of as behaviors that we engage in after we have expended our energy and feel depleted. Whereas, self care relates to not expending our energy reserves in the first place.
Although both are important and necessary skill sets to have, self-soothing behaviors are more inclined to have both “positive” and “negative” manifestations. Obviously, there will be times when you are running on all cylinders and self-care is not as readily available, such as parenting a newborn, military deployment, or being a frontline worker. Generally speaking, however, self-care should be thought of as your most important advocate. Examples may include: saying no, taking breaks, or taking some time away. Once again, the aim is to allow your energy reserves to stay viable and effective.
Self-soothing behavior in its more “positive” expression can include: taking a bath, reading a book, or speaking with a good friend. Additionally, some “negative” expressions can also exist and may include: drinking, anger outbursts, or social isolation.
Try and work toward suspending judgement, trusting yourself and being adaptable, whether you’re taking good care of yourself or soothing yourself after an exhaustive experience. And like anyone else, don't wait to reach out to talk to someone and seek help when needed.