‘This is exhausting’: Therapists speak up about the pandemic, the weight they carry

Schools began closing in last March. For Chelsea Goldman, a therapist in her 20s, that’s when her anxiety started building. 

First, that anxiety was about adapting her practice to the new normal. She knew she might have to shut down her practice. She didn’t know much about Telehealth and video-based therapy just wasn’t why she became a therapist. 

“I kept thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’,” she said. “I am not capable of TeleHealth. I need to see [my clients.]” 

When the first of her clients received a positive COVID test, she made the switch although the transition was bumpy. Goldman, who lives in South Carolina, knew she didn’t have much to spend on a good platform. She needed something free and HIPAA compliant. 

It was a totally different world to navigate, she said, all while working through her own anxiety. She eventually found an app she really liked called VSee, and aside from one week in May when it went down, she hasn’t had any problems with it. 

“In the beginning, it was rocky waters to navigate, but I did find a comfortable space,” she said. “It was a much better transition than I thought it would be.” 

Another source of anxiety would be managing the increase in demand.

Goldman is one of thousands of mental health professionals who’ve scrambled to find resources and comfort in a brand new society. Across the board, therapists are seeing a significant increase in clients requesting more appointments and check-ins. More than 40% of respondents to a CDC-managed survey reported at least one mental or behavioral health condition related to the pandemic between June 24-30, 2020, in comparison to earlier data of 31%. 

The National Suicide Hotline, administered by Vibrant Emotional Health, saw a 338% increase in calls in March, according to NBC News. 

“Right now, my practice is full,” said Claire Fierman, a therapist in Birmingham, Alabama. “It is just packed out. We are so grateful that we have jobs, but it’s also a bit exhausting.”

The exhaustion runs deep. Multiple therapists interviewed by Reckon shared similar experiences — the overload of clients, the uncertainty of shutdowns and the stressors that come with virtual therapy — all of which have put their own self-care at the forefront of many providers’ minds. 

“The most bizarre thing for therapists right now is that we are having paralleled experiences with all of our patients,” Fierman said. 

Everyone is going through the pandemic, she said, but it looks different from each perspective and experience. With more than 352,000 COVID-related deaths, hundreds of protests and a brutal presidential election, many therapists are referring to 2020 as a collective trauma we’ve all shared. 

This has prompted many in the field discussion countertransference, which occurs when the provider unconsciously transfers emotions to a person in therapy. 

“I pause to notice myself, ask whether what I am saying is actually my stuff and ask them if that’s how they are feeling or if it’s me,” Fierman said. 

All of these factors and the increased need for self-awareness have emphasized the need for self-care for many therapists. Mikah Miller, an Atlanta-based therapist with 10 years of experience with young clients, had already started online therapy at the start of the year because many of her clients were transitioning to college. She did see many more younger students go online after schools began to close. 

“You have to use twice the energy you would normally have to with kids online,” she said. “I am exhausted.” 

The first wave of students came when schools closed, and then she began seeing a huge increase in referrals, mainly in teenagers. Since the increase, she’s learned how to pull away and make time for herself. 

“I do Orange Theory. I walk or hike every day. I have therapist friends and we talk and work through these things,” Miller said. “I just have to really focus on not taking things home.” 

And with all of the changes, each of the therapists interviewed by Reckon has echoed one idea: Behind every good therapist is a good therapist. 

“We owe it to ourselves to be on the other side of that chair,” Goldman said. 

The Reckon Report.
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