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“Hold on to your hats!”

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               Hold on to your hats.

By Jerry Fromm, PhD, 4x4@4:00 “Talking It Through” moderator  

A major theme of this third session of the 4x4@4:00 “Talking It Through” series was “Hold on to your hats!” In response to the COVID-19 crisis, mental health professionals have gone through a number of phases in rapid succession: initial panic and confusion, surprisingly quick adaptation, learning how to organize the work, then a feeling of “Enough now,” then anxious anticipation of how the re-opening will go. There are so many unknowns on the horizon that it leads, on the one hand, to a longing for certainty, even though nobody has that, and on the other, to an even greater need to be adaptive. “Flexibility” was the watchword, and “roller coaster” was the metaphor.  

Part of that flexibility was to be open to surprise and to learn from it. For example, a peer support group for troubled adolescents was continuing via Zoom and the young people were showing up! The resources they were bringing to the work and their commitment to it were surprising, and perhaps something to be counted on in a new way in the future. Similarly, clinicians were surprised that they and the children they were working with were finding ways even to do play therapy online. Other things perhaps should not have been so surprising but were; for example, we know that a student’s going off to college is a developmental achievement but hadn’t fully realized how much their being sent home during the crisis temporarily undid that achievement and invited regression. And college mental health professionals now have to think about working with the families of those students while they are home, which is another new challenge. 

Embracing flexibility is difficult under any circumstances. It’s even harder in the face of many demands and stresses, and also in the face of what needs to be given up, at least for a time.  One person spoke of the grief work required to move from a known and comfortable way of working–one that has been successful in the past and also supports the clinician’s identity–to whatever new way is emerging. In this context, people spoke about how the experience of “being with” the client is changing, how it’s moving from an easy, natural physical presence to a visual one that seems to demand more cognitive focus and, at least until one gets used to it, is exhausting. But people also spoke about the visual window into both the client’s and the clinician’s space, and what an interesting experience that is in itself. 

A theme in this session, and in others, was how important connection is these days: on social media, through increased team meetings, through calls to clients, and so on. People are “desperate to talk,” and, given what is happening in the larger society–in response to COVID-19, to the economy, and now to police brutality–desperate in general. This session included many positive notes–assuming we were ready to hold on to our hats–but it also included an African proverb: “The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.” 

The final 4X4@4:00 “Talking It Through” session in this series will take place at 4:00 p.m. on Monday, June 8.    

For more information and to reserve your place, see our 4x4@4:00 online registration page.   

Read Dr. Fromm’s reflections on the first two 4x4@4:00 “Talking It Through” sessions: 

About 4x4@4:00 “Talking It Through”   

Hosted by Jerry Fromm, PhD, ABPP, senior consultant to and former director of the Erikson Institute of the Austen Riggs Center, the 60-minute “Talking It Through” sessions are offered via Zoom video conferencing. Each gathering begins with an initial conversation among four mental health professionals related to the feelings people are struggling with during the coronavirus crisis. After the initial conversation among the panelists, the dialogue expands to other participants, in the hope that “talking it through” will lead to deeper understanding and mutual support.    

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