Suddenly, the world stopped...
Suddenly, the world stopped. And there was an audible gasp as we started to think the unthinkable. Covid19, a merciless virus, is attacking every realm of human being. Thousands are dying, tens of thousands are ill and millions are without food, essentials, money and jobs. Fear is rife right now, with the media and Government ruling how we live our lives. Alongside this fear, comes confusion. Fake news on social media, countries following different methods to contain the virus and support their ‘citizens’, varying death and recovery rates, all mix together with the fantasies in our own minds to ensure that no one is thinking straight. In a more normal time, when we think the unthinkable, we can reassure ourselves with the, usually, more positive reality. Presently, the reality is in line with our unthinkable thoughts and existing in the moment, as we are so often called to do to maintain our wellbeing, is a scary place. With the world turned on its head, the past and future are where we are encouraged to go; anything to not be in the here and now.
Although the world around is very still and we are confined to the relatively small spaces of our homes, we have internalised the busyness of our previous external reality. When the lockdown in the UK started, there was a week or so when shock took over. People went inwards; there were no smiles on the street, work stopped whilst companies figured out how to deal with events, we took stock of the situation quietly. Our relationship to absolutely everything was called in to question - food, money, your children and partner, your house, where you work and how you exercise – the list goes on. It was like we had moved house to a new town without going anywhere. Then, in many, a fighting spirit appeared. Creativity, so important for emotional resilience, became the driving force behind keeping families, friends and workforces connected. Outwardly, fear is still ruling the world but inwardly, there is hope that we can still go on being.
The arts therapists that work in our team for Chroma, have shown such brilliant innovation – and this is reflected in many other therapy teams around the country. They worked hard to master new technology skills, reflecting every step of the way about how online therapy is both a positive thing and a challenge. They have shared resources, arranged virtual chats for each other, and shared the highs and the lows of being a therapist at this current time. The leadership team have also experienced changes with some of us being furloughed (myself included in this) so that the company can continue to exist in the future. And here is another interesting thing, we know this unthinkable thing will pass quite soon and we will return to something comparable to normal. This state is not forever but the decisions and opportunities that are taken now will colour the normal that appears afterwards.
Personally, I have had mixed results and reactions to online working. One young person refused to have sessions online. He has learning difficulties and mum felt that processing the information of seeing himself, looking at me and having to think about communication or a task was too much. Many therapists have found that holding online sessions is very tiring, with our cognitive capacity really being challenged to process all of the information. Another family where I work with the parents, would like to continue with online therapy, however, the lack of personal space in their house with two teenagers has made it difficult. This highlights another issue in lockdown. Families are used to being busy with their own routines – children at school and extra curricula learning, parents at work or at a social gatherings – and now we have to fight for this personal space at home. There has been some success with one family with younger children. In our usual school setting, I work with the little boy. We are still quite early in to the process so he learning to trust and build attachments with me. However, when I see him at home with his parents and sister, he is calm and content, fully engaging in all of the activities I suggest on screen. The family have reported life being easier without the complications of commuting to work and trying to get two children ready for school – and the subsequent fall out of the adopted children managing school all day. As their therapist, I have found this experience heartening as I watch them cuddle, smile and sing together and I hope to take this experience in to their future work.
When working with children experiencing attachment and trauma issues, fear can be their overriding feeling and they experience what we know as ‘fight or flight’. This can result in staying quiet or hiding to keep the peace of the family, or acting with aggression and anger. The resources we need as a population to fight the virus and to safeguard the future of our work as a therapeutic community are dependent on us being still and, in a sense, fleeing the situation. And if we look within ourselves, and the communities and others around us, we can find the hope and skills we need to make our individual notes in to a melody we can sustain in to the future.