Everyone in Seattle is going through the formal stages of grief. All have some anxiety and some of them are panicking.
What are the stages? Elizabeth Kubler-Ross lists them as
- Shock and Disbelief: our vibrant city is dead. No traffic. No restaurants or bars or hair salons or schools or colleges are open. No music venues or museums open. Most businesses are closed, have people working from home, or have drastically reduced hours. And we’re the epicenter of the pandemic, in the United States.—People go from “I can’t believe it!” to Panic! Then to
- Anger: At the government, at themselves for having an emotional reaction, at the people who aren’t following the new rules or at the people who are, at the virus itself.
- Sadness/Hopeless/Yearning for How it Was: People prone to depression are collapsing. People with good affect tolerance are crying. All are yearning for the good old days, of last week, when the town was up and running.
- Integration is constant–the news and changes are happening every day. And people are learning to accept and make the most of working at home with a houseful of children, applying for unemployment, staying home, scrounging for sustenance, or seeing their clients/patients/therapists/coworkers online. Since it’s not done, integration can’t be complete.
- Over the acute grief: too early
How do we do therapy in these times?
- Most of us are doing it online. Clients don’t want to come into our offices. We don’t want 6 or more people sitting on the same couch on the same day.
- We’re helping them sit with the shock and then all the other feelings. We normalize the process by sharing the stages of grief.
- EMDR therapists start with one cognition and one feeling, and contain the space as our clients move through the range of feelings. Though the clients feel better, they don’t completely clear all the trauma, because it’s still happening.
- Somatic therapists do similarly. Let the clients literally move through and feel through the situation, until they come to some peace.
- All therapists listen, contain, and connect with their grieving clients.
3. We let them feel their anxiety, process it as we will. Normalize it. “These are scary times!” And for the “skinny, nervous people”, more prone to anxiety disorders, we might use the 2-Hand Interweave–“In one hand hold the fear that you have about you and yours catching the Corona Virus. In the other, hold how likely is it that you will, since you’re not leaving the house.” (If you do EMDR, now is the time to wave at them.) Then, “in one hand, hold the fear you have about dying if you get it, and in the other, how likely it is for a young, healthy person like yourself to be killed by it.” This helps people somatically sort out fear from danger. Then do EMDR or the trauma therapy of your choice with the fear they hold in their bodies.
If the fear is real: “I have no $, because my restaurant is closed, or empty.”, have them feel and move through the worst of the distress, and then help them plan how they will cope. Even if the fear isn’t based in reality, making an action plan, with what people can do is very helpful.
4. Every session now starts with “What’s happening and how are you coping with it now?” And when people’s old issues will arise in the midst of the crisis, do the work. Then at the end, we all say something like, “Stay Healthy!” to each other, as we rebook.