I was recently asked to share a bit about myself for a directory of therapists who work with COVID-19 first responders and their family members. Some of the questions and answers related more specifically to working as a psychotherapist as we’ve been dealing with a global pandemic. It was a nice opportunity to reflect upon my identity, both personal and in my professional role as a psychotherapist, and to think about what’s changed and what’s stayed the same over the last two years.
Here’s how I answered the six questions posed to me:
What do you enjoy most about your role as a psychotherapist during the current crisis, with people directly impacted by COVID-19?
Well, working in psychotherapy is generally very challenging and interesting work. I enjoy doing good work, learning more every day and honing my skills with each new challenge, and find what I do to be meaningful. I’m very glad to learn more about the social and psychological dynamics and hardships of living in the time of a pandemic, but wouldn’t say that’s “enjoyable”, per se. Because so much of what we’re facing is painful and overwhelming. But I’m up for the challenge and glad to help people process what’s happening, deal with all the feelings, including uncertainty, loss, despair *and* hope; all while on my own journey through all of the above concurrently.
What do you like to do in your free time?
A snapshot of my bookshelves reveals my varied interests – literature, art, film, music, travel, cultures and traditions, science, holistic health / mental health and medicine (with an emphasis on science) and fitness; and of course sociology, psychology and human development throughout the life cycle.
It’s great when professional and recreational interests intersect, and I consider myself very lucky to have found work that is so interesting, engaging and enriching.
Being a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, I don’t share a lot about the specifics of my personal life for publication on the internet. That being said, over many years of being a psychotherapist, I have developed a balance and am able to be myself and real with you without needing to put my life and history in the forefront. If we work together over time, you will get to know a lot about me, as I believe the real person the therapist is, *does* belong in the room. I will share feelings, impressions, opinions, thoughts, and some of my life experiences, as they are relevant with you, while in general I will keep the focus on you. I think you will enjoy having a space which allows the focus to be on you and your goals.
Personally, I am very involved in building connections in my neighborhood, social circle and professional community. I love meeting new people, and learning about the world and myself through making new connections. As a psychotherapist, I work to help people start to understand what they can do to cultivate the kinds of connections they feel they want to experience. Over the years, I have found this work to be satisfying – on both sides of “the couch”. I really love my job.
What is one way that you take care of your own mental health?
Staying active with being out-and-about often and getting away when I can. Staying connected to friends, family and colleagues. Taking time for my own self-care, mental and physical healthcare. This has always been the case, and has become even more important in the last couple of years.
What is one way that you can spread positivity during difficult times?
Honestly I don’t know how to answer that briefly! I have a lot to say here. But just as an introduction to my philosophy and wisdom learned in life so far: I think being able to tolerate and help facilitate processing, grieving, containing and *owning* (as part of life and part of the self) deep hurt, anger and all the other “negative” or “ugly” things, is so important for enabling *real* positivity. I try to make space for “all the feels” as young people say, in a contained and secure clinical framework.
Any lessons learned during the pandemic?
YES. Global, collective trauma is real and not just something from history. Resilience and exhaustion can coexist, but not for too long, unaided. We all need help and care. For that reason, being able to contend with the universality of human vulnerability is essential. These days, “compassion” has become a buzzword. When I use it and it falls flat, I have been trying simply to ask people to “try a little tenderness”. This is hard. If it’s not that hard, it may not be real! I, personally, keep going back to the drawing board over and over again. Some days I feel like I get it right.
Any lessons learned while working with first responders and other people directly impacted by COVID-19 illness?
So far, I have seen what I have long seen and known about people seeking help, even in “before times”: That people often have mixed feelings about seeking help. I “get” this 100%. Sometimes there are fits and starts before settling into a therapy. Sometimes people just can’t process what is happening until things around them settle down and they begin to feel more secure. Some people need a space to begin processing even as the shakeups are ongoing. Timing is everything. Patience and openness to different paces and internal time clocks is really important.
–Lisa Sabath, LCSW-R