Coronavirus and counselling – a reflection

We currently live in strange times. There is apprehension but also stoic resignation. There is social distancing from some, but close proximity with others. There is much news but limited information. Perhaps those contradictions and the element of confusion is understandable. When close to the centre of a storm it is not possible to know what is going on at the periphery. It is only when the storm subsides that the wider impact becomes a little clearer.

The same may be true of the coronavirus and the effect of the pandemic on our society, our friends and perhaps also ourselves. Some are arguing that as a result of this crisis there will be a fundamental change to our way of being. Working practices, social interactions and general patterns of behaviour will never be the same again. Others argue that the current crisis has just accelerated changes that were already underway. There will also be a third group perhaps with a more world-weary view, suggesting that once the sands settle and the danger averts, memories will become selective and society will return to a familiar shape.

We will all have a view. The analysis of this time will provide a rich source of material for economists and sociologists for many years to come. Whatever conclusions are reached, it is clear that this remarkable emergency will certainly have an impact on us as individuals and also on the counselling and therapy world - whether we come to that world as clients or counsellors.

Those effects are likely to relate to both individual psychopathology and also broader trends within counselling. For some individuals, the imperative to act and behave in a certain way to avoid catastrophe is likely to sear into the psyche. That may have some long term effects on some individuals, particularly if there is already emotional fragility. 

The insistence on observing strict personal hygiene with extensive hand washing may resonate in unexpected ways with regard to future behaviour patterns. Those with underlying anxiety and a propensity towards panic attacks and catastrophic thinking may face some enhanced future challenges when a broader sense of normality returns.

But there will also be, for others, a belated recognition of emotional strength that has lain dormant. Some, during this time of national apprehension, will have found an inner strength that has surprised both themselves and others. That emotional robustness may be retained past this crisis and encourage the individual to engage with the world in a far more resilient way than was ever thought possible.

There may also be a specific impact on family units. We are aware that the challenge of remaining in the home, close to family members can see tensions come to the surface in many different ways. If that occurs over just a few days of a holiday period then a home incarceration lasting many weeks can have more dramatic consequences. It may be that shared concerns can help rekindle relationships. It is, however, also possible that a prolonged period of home isolation will exacerbate existing difficulties in relationships which become fractured perhaps beyond repair.

Within the counselling world, some broader trends may emerge. Perhaps there will be an increased willingness for individuals to want to use therapy as a way of enhancing personal reflection and inner growth, rather than just regarding counselling work as a way of easing emotional dysfunction such as extreme anxiety. There is anecdotal evidence particularly from social media that there has been a move to more frequent diarising and self-expression, whether through words or another medium, such as art and music. In particular, it appears that in the absence of distractions many individuals have moved to a self-analytic and reflective frame. And the phrase ”when this is all over I  will …. “ appears to be an increasingly popular refrain.

It may be that this practice of reflection will continue. Personal reflection is a more dynamic activity than meditation. There is an active engagement in thoughts around ‘who am I, why do I act and think in this way and what do I want to change’. But self-reflection can benefit from a mirror. To have words heard and thoughts acknowledged can be a powerful catalyst. Once the pandemic passes, as it surely will, the therapy room may continue to provide a particularly helpful space for this form of personal development. 

In the meantime, if we return to the centre of the prevailing storm there are some immediate needs to be met. Anxiety and apprehension are commonplace. For most, those emotions can be contained but for others, there may be a concern about reactions which seem to be outside that which feels proportionate. This may invite some immediate counselling work to help contain what may become an emotional spillage.

But given these unusual times, there is a question mark about how clients and counsellors can best work together. Counsellors and therapists have traditionally seen the face-to-face meeting as being the most helpful for clients. That is for good reason - but the practice of social distancing requires alternative ways of meeting and talking.

Interactions with counsellors can be via the telephone which provides immediacy and control for some. When the home environment provides challenges in terms of confidentiality the mobile can be used from the secure space of a car. There is also the option of using online technology with apps such as Skype or Zoom. That is probably the closest technology can take us to a real-time face-to-face meeting. At least there can be visual contact where concerns are seen as well as heard.

As with many aspects of counselling, the key issue is what feels right for you, as the client. Debates about approaches such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), solution focussed therapy or existential work seem of less importance today. Although the relationship between client and therapist remains of fundamental importance, those constraints on interactions suggest that practicalities around the method of contact, timing and frequency are the key factors if counselling work is to be effective for you today. It is for you to consider those practicalities such as phone or Skype and to decide which will allow you to make the best use of that therapeutic space and time. 

There will be a time when the current storm has faded. We will move from the centre to the periphery and then onto a place where dangers are in the past. In that time, needs and preferences may change. But right now the key issue is what will be of immediate help for you today. Given that we are still close to the centre of the storm you are the one to decide what will work for you now.      

And having decided, then why not make the call, engage with Skype or send the email. Counselling support is there for you and we will respond.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Geoff Boutle MBACP (Snr Accred)

Geoff Boutle is a BACP senior accredited therapist working in private practice in Chichester and West Sussex.
He works with clients who are facing difficult personal issues in a way which is most helpful for each individual. He also offers relationship counselling to couples.… Read more

Written by Geoff Boutle MBACP (Snr Accred)

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