The Life of a Therapist During COVID-19

Technically the clinic that I work at is still open and I could be seeing clients as Addiction and Mental Health care is deemed an essential service in my area, but I have opted to work remotely as I have an immune-compromised person in my household. This made for a very quick shift to remote cancelling, basically overnight. I’ve done phone and some video sessions throughout my career of 11 years but never exclusively. I’ve also never worked exclusively from home.

Step one was to set up a workspace for myself. Luckily I have a spare bedroom that I could use. Unfortunately it does not have a desk so I made do with my meditation chair and an old living room end table as my desk and chair. The scenery behind me is books (fiction) from the bookshelves that are housed in that spare bedroom. So far, so good.

Oh wait, that was just step one. Next steps were figuring out how to access my schedule and notes remotely, coordinate with others in the office who are also working remotely and then figure out what I would need from those still in the office. Okay, eventually (like probably in 24 hours, so not long) this was all figured out. I didn’t pause in my practice and just kept on going with scheduled appointments.

In mid-March, I was feeling scared, drained, overwhelmed, and absolutely exhausted. My 9 year-old daughter was home full-time and my husband, who has a chronic health condition, was there too and both them and the household were asking things of me-cooking, cleaning, groceries, homework help, technology help, in addition to my regular workload.

I’m happy to report that I have a pretty solid and consistent routine of self-care in place and I was able to maintain that schedule during this time. Despite that, I still felt absolutely exhausted by the end of the day so sleep was up and emotionality too over those few weeks.

Transitioning to full-time virtual practice felt initially pretty nice. It gave me space to be home where I feel safe and comfortable. I enjoyed being able to maintain connection with clients that I have known for a long time. I found connecting with people who I didn’t know as well via phone a bit disconnected as sometimes I almost couldn’t envision their face or body language and that makes the connection feel a bit odd. As a therapist I rely strongly on intuition and energy so finding ways to connect with that by really listening for pauses, sounds of crying, agitation in the voice was helpful.

I am grateful to still have work and be working but, at times, I longed for a break from work as it felt like too much in addition to the other worldly stressors happening. This is week five of working from home now and I’ve settled into a routine. I’ll get up a bit later than usual, eat breakfast, go back to bed for 10-15 minutes and do my French Duolingo, get cleaned up and ready for the day, sit and have a cup of hot water or tea, watch ‘Seinfeld’ and then head to work in my spare bedroom where I’m usually working away for 3 hours. Lunch break I’ll eat and go for a quick walk with my daughter, then back to it for a few hours. In the evenings I’ve taken on more cooking so will do that, help with schoolwork challenges, and go into mom/person mode of playing, and self-care routine of exercise, journaling, and some social media posting.

As I type this, it’s a pretty nice routine. At times I feel fearful, wanting to turtle and avoid some of the responsibility that can feel pretty heavy, at other times I feel optimistic, accepting, and in the moment. The long and the short of it is that I’m human and even though my role is to help others, primarily I know I need to show up for myself everyday or I’m sunk.

I hope all of you are showing up for your selves too and that you are recognizing that you’re doing the best you can, even if some days feel pretty heavy and dark. I’ve had those moments too and they’re okay, they pass and the sun comes out. People are pretty amazing and resilient and we can and will get through.

By Paige Abbott

Paige is a Registered Psychologist in private practice in Calgary, AB in addition to her full-time role at an outpatient addiction and mental health clinic. Paige is an introvert who loves writing and sharing some of her thoughts and feelings. Thanks for reading this blog!