Jeff Guenther on Feb 03, 2021
Is it just me or has it been incredibly difficult to be a therapist these last couple weeks? Seriously, my clients have been in disarray. Breakups of long-term relationships, total burnout at work, nasty fights with family, OCD symptoms roaring back, anxiety and depression through the roof. The list could go on. I’m not sure it’s been this hard for my collective caseload in my over fifteen years of being a therapist. And it’s not just my clients. I’ve asked a dozen or so colleagues and they’re all reporting the same thing. Not only are their clients hitting all time lows, but therapists are having a harder time keeping it together. Why is this happening now? What’s going on? I asked my therapist colleagues and the list below is what we’ve come up with.
We’re coming up on a year of the COVID pandemic. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? We’ve been in lockdown for so long! It’s bonkers. Do you know what being in lockdown for a year can do to a person? Yeah, I have no idea either. Nobody knows. But we’re about to find out. The trauma this is going to cause over the course of the rest of our lives could be pretty harsh. Yearly anniversaries can be really triggering, especially when all the same elements that were present when this first started on March 12, 2020 are creeping back into our lives. Not to mention the fact that we don’t know when exactly this is going to end. It’s incredibly overwhelming, and it’s gotta be affecting people's psyches. No doubt about it. Bringing this up with my clients–– that we’re coming up on the anniversary and that it could be causing distress–– has been a bit relieving for people to hear. It gives them a reason why they’re backsliding and/or feeling generally terrible. On a more personal note, will I ever forgive COVID for taking away one of my best-looking years? No way! Unforgivable!
Yay, we have a new president! Thank God! Trump was the absolute worst president ever. These last four years under Trump have been incredibly damaging in all ways possible. We won’t even understand the full impact of the destruction for years to come. But now we’re all sitting here reflecting on this toxic relationship we’ve had for the past four years, and it’s upsetting! Sure, it’s a relief that Trump isn’t in office anymore, but the damage he and his administration has done to our collective psyche is severe and only now are we able to reflect back on it. That can be a very overwhelming experience.
Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell have basically broken every norm in the book. McConnell started breaking some serious norms back when Obama was in office. But the amount of norms that were shattered in the last four years have been record breaking. Not only that, but people elected to office legit believe in conspiracy theories with no facts or basis. Racist white supremacists are elected officials. While this has been the case since the beginning of our country, and knowing that is incredibly troubling, the fact that we are still struggling with it today and these people continue to be put into powerful positions is simply horrifying. Yay that we have a new administration! But can we really get back to the norms from before? And aren’t those norms problematic anyway? Will the great American experiment collapse? Existential anxiety may be at an all-time high.
Most of the time when a client is angry, depressed, traumatized or anxious I am emotionally and mentally resourced to help that client through their emotional journey. The vast majority of the time I can hold space for client after client when they are going through turmoil. And 99% of the time, I’m not suffering from the same exact thing they’re suffering from. But this year has flipped all of that upside down. Not only am I suffering how my clients are suffering, but when they feel burnt out and feel pandemic fatigue, I feel the same thing too. So it’s not just my clients who are feeling overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed as well. I’m under-resourced just like everyone else and my clients can feel it. They may not feel it consciously, but at least subconsciously, they can tap into it the fact that I’m not the sturdy and stable therapist they’re used to. And they might be pretty let down by that.
Literally every single client I have is taking part in some major avoidant behavior. During the Before Times when we weren’t coming up on a year of pandemic lockdown I’d have a real good time challenging clients to sit with their uncomfortable emotions. But you know what? Fuck it. Sinking into avoidant behavior (as long as it’s not harmful) like playing video games, watching movies, scrolling on social media, bingeing some truly terrible reality television is A-OK in my book. I recently started watching all 40 seasons of Survivor and it’s been the most amazing and distracting journey I’ve ever taken. As a reality show aficionado, I can honestly say that Survivor is the best reality series, hands down. The host, Jeff Probst, is simply fantastic. So while avoiding feelings might not be the best way to go through life, right now during these insane times, it’s perfectly acceptable in my book to sink into well-produced TV that momentarily allows you to forget everything that’s happening in the world. And just for the record, I’d be amazing on Survivor. If anyone’s got the inside scoop on how to make it on the show, hit me up!
Jeff Guenther, LPC, is a therapist in Portland, OR. He has been in private practice since 2005. Jeff is the creator and owner of Portland Therapy Center, a highly ranked therapist directory. Jeff, and his team, have launched a new progressive therapist directory, TherapyDen.