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Being a Therapist in the New Normal

Always remember that for each patient you see you may be the only person in their life capable of both hearing and holding their pain. If that’s not sacred, I don’t know what is.

(Corner Canyon Counseling, Author unknown)

We step into each new year with an optimistic attitude of reaching our goals, following our dreams and living our fullest. But six days into this New Year, I still feel as though I’m living in 2020. My routine is the same, life feels mundane and the gloom of uncertainty still remains over my head. It didn’t take me long to realise that my mental health is going down the drain. Numerous conversations with friends, families and even distant acquaintances, revealed the same – we are living in the shadow of 2020, with grief, disappointments, burnouts and at times helplessness.

What does this mean for the world of mental health professionals? In a country where 1 in 5 Indians suffer from a mental health issue, it is the need of the hour for us to reach out, be available, committed, and efficacious, but most importantly be responsible therapists. I believe, in all honesty, that 2020 was a wakeup call for our community. It’s a call to adapt to the current mental health scenario, learn and gather our best resources to meet the mental health needs of our nation. So, here are a few suggestions on what you as a therapist can do to use your knowledge and power for the benefit of your community, while still in quarantine or working from home:

1. Create support groups in your society – Within your apartment building or neighbours, you can bring people together and create a group with the intention of supporting each other, in terms of physical tangible support as well as emotional support. You can plan to engage the group in online activities such as storytelling, book reading or even learn a skill together (online painting or art classes). You can also initiate and discuss ways you can check up on others – one telephone call per week , cooking or sharing a meal together, buying groceries for a neighbour, etc.,

2. Educate others – Initiate online awareness campaigns in your neighbourhood or society that can educate others about the basics of mental health. You can especially focus on educating caregivers about the common signs and symptoms of a poor mental health, ways to improve their wellbeing and teach them about healthy coping strategies and ways they can deal with stress and build resilience.

3. Refine your skills and have a learning attitude – There’s always room for more growth, so invest your time in learning new things and refining your present skills. Join online workshops and webinars, stay in touch with those who are practicing in the field, collaborate with them and learn from them. Reading is another way that you can increase your knowledge while being at home.

4. Focus on yourself too – It can be psychologically taxing to always be a caregiver and invest emotionally in others. Remember that you can help others efficiently when you yourself are in a healthy state. As therapists we need to take more care and efforts in ensuring a good mental health as we are, perhaps the only model or person of influence in someone's life. So take breaks from work , have clear boundaries with your client that can help you balance your work and private life , and do not be fearful of postponing a therapy session or referring your client to a colleague when you are not in a position to support them.

5. Advocate for mental health in your family and friends circle - This personally, is most challenging in a culture filled with stigma and different stereotypes regarding mental health. It can get frustrating to make others understand your perspective as a mental health professional. And the truth is, change begins only when you change yourself. It might be difficult for us to be vulnerable or ask for support from our own family, but it is pivotal in order to normalise mental health talk within our family. Only then can you encourage your family and friends to talk about their struggles and emotional needs.

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