Connection Interrupted: Therapy During a Pandemic

Oh how I miss my clients. I see them every week, but my goodness, I miss them. I miss their energy. As a clinician who co-founded an in-home therapy service, I am drawn to bringing healing right into the clients’ living room, but now I sit with my clients, with a screen between us and an acute awareness of the small image of myself in the far right corner, sharing a collective trauma.

I minimize the image of myself, but not my experience, listening and feeling for creative ways to connect, feeling closer to and further away from them than ever before. I feel resentful of the way the screen chops us off at the clavicle. I can no longer rely on the pace of the belly’s breathing to indicate an anxious shift of consciousness when family tension builds. I can’t gauge when a tween’s foot is shimmying restlessly, letting me know that perhaps, they want to run from something. I can’t see the white knuckles on a client’s lap indicating their body’s effort to protect themselves from a painful feeling that they both want and don’t want to share with their partner.

The screen between us is a constant reminder of how we’ve been taken away from each other. A reminder of the remarkable shared isolation, uncertainty, inequity, injustice, and hardship of this time, as well as a reminder of the way we all uniquely relate to those things. A reminder of how exceptionally important it is, as a clinician, to draw upon the collective resilience of families and communities. And yet, I have felt so lost.

Not too long ago, after a long day of sessions from my home, I bent over my sink, overwashing my dishes aggressively, as I became aware of my clenched jaw, aching back, tense stomach, and tight throat. Suddenly, or maybe not so suddenly, all of the denial, anger, despair, and helplessness from my grief and my clients’ grief that I was holding in my body spilled out as sobs into my kitchen sink. It was the kind of crying that befuddles one’s partner, as it begs them to take care of you, and also to stay away from you.

But finally, a release. Space for something else.

Space for creativity, and thank goodness it came. Creativity is hard to access in trauma. I was finally able to think outside of the box of my laptop screen. I began to invite some of my clients to connect creatively, reducing a sense of isolation, by dancing (highly recommend this) together with them on Zoom. Some clients who would have felt far too vulnerable to dance in person into their healing were able to share space in a new way because of the very screen that I had once felt limited us.

I sat with clients in the spaces in their homes that grounded them, using the objects from their homes to soothe them, and directing them to bring calming objects into spaces that make them feel anxious. I took children on virtual emotional scavenger hunts using the items in their rooms to represent the feelings of this time to their parents in a way that they couldn’t previously name. I was taken through a shared-screen slideshow of a client’s family of origin, attended a client’s first protest with them as virtual support, spent a virtual hour in the hospital with my client, and put my hand to the screen while a client put their hand to their screen as we sent our energy towards each other and processed what we felt.

These are the moments to hold close in this time. I can sit with them and access my gratitude and purpose, and feel some sense of complicated relief.

According to “Collective Trauma and the Social Construct of Meaning” by Gilad Hirschberger, “Collective trauma that amplifies a sense of individual and collective existential threat prompts the search for collective meaning through adherence and identification with the group.” I suppose I am in the collective meaning seeking phase of collective trauma, which is less lonely, but not easier than the aggressive dishwashing phase.

Despite the access to creativity, I am still filled with self-doubt, along with many of my colleagues, as we turn to each other daily, wondering, “How do we help our clients?” In Nancy McWilliam’s essay “Psychotherapy in a Pandemic,” she says, “The main comfort we can offer to patients, even in a time of quarantine, is an intimate connection with someone who refrains from defensive distortions of a frightening, painful reality. This service does not come close to matching our fantasies of being omnipotent saviors, but it is still a precious thing.”

I cannot save my clients, never could, but I can be part of my clients’ community healing. And, the truth is, I am grateful and honored that they are a part of mine.

I still miss them though.

About Jamie

Jamie Weiner is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in helping families struggling to carry therapeutic change into their homes. Prior to her work with Dwellness, Jamie served as an Executive Functioning Coach and Supervisor for Organizational Tutors, focusing on tailoring unique in-home and at-school behavioral modification systems to the specific needs of each student, family, and education team. She worked with numerous NYC-based families, educators, and mental health professionals to cultivate strategies that helped students make sustainable change in their home and academic lives. Through this work, she recognized the immense value and need for in-home therapeutic support.

Jamie spent her post-graduate clinical training working as a staff therapist and outreach coordinator for IHI Therapy Center, a nonprofit psychotherapy and training center dedicated to fostering personal growth free of traditional gender, sexual orientation, and cultural biases. She also worked as a staff therapist for Brooklyn College’s research lab, treating children and adolescents suffering from IBD-related anxiety and depression at Mt. Sinai Hospital using CBT and non-directive supportive therapy. Jamie practices from a client-centered, integrated approach and is trained in CBT, psychodynamic therapy, Gestalt therapy, family systems, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

Jamie has spent the last seven years in private practice, specializing in working with artists, the LGBTQAI+ community, and adults with chronic health issues. She now sits on the board of IHI Therapy Center. In addition to her board responsibilities, she acts as a clinical supervisor, developed a program to offer affordable mental health counseling to LGBTQAI+ entertainment professionals, collaborated with Refinery29 to develop the LoveMe video series, and co-produced the “Love, Yourself” benefit performance at New York Theatre Workshop.

Jamie currently dwells in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and daughter, with whom she is grateful to have the opportunity to explore the evolving meaning of home.

About Dwellness 

Dwellness provides in-home therapeutic services to individuals and families across the lifespan via home-based and teletherapy practices. Our multidisciplinary team of clinicians specializes in different developmental periods and therapeutic techniques, which allows for an individualized treatment approach to address each client’s challenges.

Dwellness supports The Jed Foundation in their efforts to raise awareness about mental health and suicide prevention through frequent sharing of JED resources and active engagement with their ongoing initiatives. Additionally, Dwellness’ Program Director and therapist, Beth Gladstone, LMSW, is a proud member of The Jed Foundation’s Young Leadership Council.

Get Help Now

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If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.