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Cultivating Empathy: How COVID-19 is Helping me Help

My hands are red and raw and I have developed unusual callused spots between my fingers.  It is painful to wash my hands so frequently, yet I know it is best practice to stop the spread.  I am questioning every “symptom,” every urge to wash and every thought.  I treat Obsessive – Compulsive Disorder and my empathy tank is rapidly filling.  

This past week I transitioned my clients to a telehealth practice.  I now see clients who live with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder through the comfort of our computer screens.  I nod in agreement when they report an increased urge to handwash and worst-case scenario thoughts.  I listen, ask questions and then offer homework that will help:  a statement for this and a different behaviour to practice not doing that.  Now more than ever, every door handle I touch and light I turn on comes with an accompanying urge to wash my hands too.  I struggle to follow my own advice and it feels overwhelming at times.  

During this time of uncertainty, I am learning a lot from my clients: how difficult it is to facilitate change in the face of fear.  Our new baseline are the recommendations set forth by the government; stay home, wash your hands frequently and for 20 seconds, practice social distancing, etc., but the humanity in us all questions if we are doing enough to stay safe.  

Therapists are not immune to the fear and worry created alongside COVID-19, but we do have an advantage: experiencing this pandemic alongside our clients cultivates more empathy and understanding – a shared experience that we’re all in this together.  

Stay well, be humble and wash your hands.