Being a Therapist in the Time of the Coronavirus

Diane B. Malkin, LCSW

People keep asking me what it is like working as a therapist right now.

As I do video sessions from my basement, I see glimpses into the homes of my patients. I hear a dog bark. A 20 something’s mom peeks into her childhood room where she is living now to escape her apartment in New York City. We say hello! We’ve never spoken before this. Couples sit in their living room, crouched over a laptop. The conversations are familiar. The themes are the same. But now we discuss who is sick. Who is in the hospital. Who is worried about their aging parents who are not taking this as seriously as warranted. Whose husband has to be reminded to wash his hands every time he returns home from the grocery store. Seniors in high school are feeling deprived of their hard earned celebrations – yet they are mature enough to also recognize the gravity of the situation. Tears flow – but so does guilt. “People are dying, and I am sad because I will likely not have a prom???” Children are bored, but seem blissfully unaware of what is happening miles away from their rooms. They give me virtual tours of their bedrooms. I see into special drawers filled with fidget toys and secret stashes of candy. Parents are watching the news when their children are in bed – allowing themselves to truly feel their anxiety only when they are not being watched closely by curious eyes. Our work together continues. A couple completes the census for the first time since the death of a family member. Shouldn’t there be a section to explain WHY there are now only 3 people in our house instead of 4?

My patients all ask – how are you? How is your family? Is anyone sick? Suddenly we are the same. They hear my dog bark. They hear the thumping of my children’s’ feet running above me as I sit in my basement. They wonder why the wall behind me is painted light blue. I am worried. I try to be present. I try not to check the news in between sessions.

Sometimes we have a breakthrough that feels almost normal. We make a connection between a long held maladaptive belief that originated in childhood and a current behavior. We smile at each other through the small video screens of our laptops enjoying the moments when we can make some progress in our work. It almost feels normal. The screen freezes. We’ve lost our connection. We try to call each other back on FaceTime. Over and over. Finally, we connect again. My laptop starts to update a new program during a zoom call. They can still hear me, but they can’t see me. The blips in technology trying to keep us apart. Like the virus. But we connect. Over and over again until the connection is clear. That is how it will be until life goes back to normal. I’ll “see” you next week. Talk to you soon. Stay safe and healthy. A newly emerging way to end every session.

Diane Malkin, LCSW
Graduate, WCSPP Psychoanalytic Training Program