Life Put on Hold
I work in CBT modality for many years. I love cognitive-behavioral therapy because it allows me to apply structured approach to my client’s problems. Sensations, feelings, cognitions, behavior – these are the domains I analyse when I have requests to “make things the way they were”. To these domains I add another one – the life “around” the client (their financial circumstances, job, housing, people that are in contact with them). This approach helps me to help my clients to become their own therapists.
Recently the environment “around” all of us has drastically changed. This COVID-19 brought a lot of existential fears: for one’s own health, for the health of friends and relatives, for the fate of the humanity as a whole. Many people lost their jobs and their financial worries deepened. The world we knew became a VUCA-world, where V stands for vulnerability, U for uncertainty, C for complexity, and A for ambiguity. There is no way to predict the future, the coordinates are changing every day along with the numbers of lives lost in the battle with the invisible enemy.
I love CBT because it is goal oriented. I ask my clients: “What is the problem?” The clients answer, let say, “Someone is doing this and that to me”. Then I listen and say: “Here is what it may look like in CBT conceptualization. This is psychoeducation, the resources the tools, and the techniques I can teach you take the situation under your control. What do you think?” And we move on.
When the COVID-19 started, the dialogues with clients changed. The requests became more vague. The uncertainty grew exponentially and clients did not know what to ask me and they could not formulate their requests. They were just saying: “I am thinking I am not living my life”, “I wanted to relocate, now I can not”, “I can not understand what should I do with my career”. I have been receiving such requests before but most of the times I knew how to help. Not now.
Interestingly, none of my recent clients mentioned COVID-19 in their agenda, though it is definitely the subtle context of all the stagnation and uncertainty. As a result of this pandemic, my clients became not goal oriented, because their goals do not depend upon their efforts. So they became process oriented. I have a feeling that the subjective utility of results was devalued and the subjective probability was not worked out yet in the context of this pandemic. Being a behaviorist, I am not sure how to measure process. I got lost myself.
Since March 2020 I have been contacted by many journalists from my community and the country I was born. I gave six interviews to radio and TV mass media. One of the question I heard all the time was “What will happen to the world after pandemic?”. I am not a prophet and it is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future :-). Human beings are generally better at problem solving than they are at problem preventing. Even if COVID-19 problem was created by people, still the humanity was not ready for the pandemic. No one is ready for the crisis other than crisis managers and stock-brokers who are succeeded by AI bots. The horizon moved closer. All we can do is to change our behavior and make our dreams smaller narrowing our vision of the future (my Facebook was full of cooking recipes and requests to recommend a “funny movie”).
And then came “the situation” with Black Lives Matter. I feel that everyone is angry and I know that anger is a bad adviser and I do not want to be a prisoner of hate as well.
I was asked by my clients to help them to reduce the anxiety they had regarding “the situation”. The word “situation” becomes the euphemism for taboo words like “pandemic”. I think that this is “the new normal” but I try to help them with this request. At the same time I am also sending them a message that there is “healthy anxiety” that may help them to stay safe and survive (like rushing to the stores and buying sanitizers for 99 cents and not for $9.99). Being patient and accepting things as they are is sometimes not the best way to survive. It is like doing mindfulness meditation and accepting normality of suicidal ideation. Just waiting may be counterproductive.
What does “waiting” means for you? – I would ask my clients. I listened to their answers (like, hoping for the best, waiting till everything will get back to normal) and then I gave them my answer: waiting is doing something until something (expected) happens.
What can we do now before everything is over (by everything I mean COVID and life itself)? I do not know. I am not a prophet. So I am ready for the worst and still hoping for the best. Everyone has their own answer. But no one knows the future. That is what life is.
(c) Valery Belyanin, June 2020
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