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When the Helpers Need Help


A recent article in Forbes highlighted the current challenges that are faced by mental health providers during Covid-19: The need is there, but WE can’t be (at least not all the time). Therapists and social workers- already in a high burnout profession, are burnt. Crispy.

(Many other helping professions are feeling the same. Shoutout to doctors and nurses.)

The article hit close to home. Since the pandemic started, referrals for Ancora Counseling have increased by 300%. There are a lot of people hurting right now and we are so honored that we can support them and, in doing so, support our families. The challenge is that we’re now at capacity- and we’re not a fan of the waitlist either.

Also, Zoom fatigue is a real thing.

On top of that, it is very rare that a therapist will treat a client if they are actively going through the same issues. For example, a therapist currently working with their own grief may refer a client out who is presenting for counseling following the loss of a parent. The concern is for the relationship moving away from a therapist-client situation to something resembling friendship. The ethics of it get a bit concerning. So, the fact that we are all experiencing this collective trauma of a pandemic is tough. Therapists are holding space for people when we may not have the space to give. Each day, I hear echoes of my own experience, but with a different cast of characters. 

(And it’s not therapeutic to say “OMG. Same.”)

What do we do?

For clients

Persistence and patience:  It is so amazing that you have reached out for therapy. Seriously, you should be proud of yourself for taking that step. I am sorry, on behalf of our profession right now, that it feels like there are barriers to actually talking to someone and getting scheduled. Many counselors are struggling to get back to emails and phone calls. We typically don’t have receptionists- it’s just us. And if we’re seeing clients during the day, we will often use our breaks to get coffee and relieve our bladders. We’re very sorry for the wait.

Ask questions: You should not meet with a therapist if they don’t offer a free consultation. This is your opportunity to make sure that this therapist is the best possible fit. Poor fit equals less great treatment outcomes. One question that I LOVE being asked: “Do you see a counselor yourself?”  The answer is YES, absolutely. I believe that mental wellness is a lifelong journey and my counselor allows me to look at things in a new light. This makes me a better therapist. And if the answers to those questions make it not a great fit- that’s okay.

Broaden your search: Thanks to telehealth, you can see any therapist in your state. Searching for “therapists near me” will give local results for when we resume in-person sessions, but for now, checking out Psychology Today can help you find counselors across the state who may specialize in the concerns you’re working on.

For social workers/counselors

Practice your self-care: Whether this means getting outside, music, binging Netflix, or running- find your thing and do it. I aggressively vacuumed before writing this and feel loads better. And take your damn lunch break.

Time/Schedule Management: Decide your caps for each week and stick to it. I have the joy of homeschooling my children during the pandemic. This creates non-negotiable time boundaries so I can’t book clients the entire day. But I take it one step further. One intake each week, maximum. I make time for two networking meetings and two referral partner meetings. And I only see evening clients two nights a week.

Seek consultation and/or counseling: Ancora Counseling is a group practice for this very reason. Since we all have different training and backgrounds, we regularly consult on issues and discuss new interventions. My counselor helps me to manage my counter-transference, particularly around the pandemic. I encourage you all to do the same.

Be real:  (This is not an invitation to emotionally dump on clients.)  I tell my new consults right from the start that (like many others) I’m working from home right now. I use this opportunity to introduce them to my cat, Mr. Pickles, who is usually on my lap. I also let them know that I have two small kids who are really great about not interrupting Mom when she’s with a client.  BUT, if I hear a certain type of cry (parents, you know the one), I might have to step out for a moment. This small amount of self-disclosure if a nice FYI and makes me a bit more human.

For all of us

Be Well: I hope all of you are reaching out for what you need right now. Let’s be real- not only is there a pandemic right now, but life is still happening as well. I have confidence the light is at the end of the tunnel. It’s hard to see, your eyes may need a moment to adjust, so you may have to give it a moment. The more we can show up for ourselves and each other the easier this home stretch will feel.

And therapists (particularly mine), thank you for the work that you do.  

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