Blog: Providing online trauma therapy for key workers

Published: 22 Sep 2020

Blog: Providing online trauma therapy for key workers

Key workers providing treatment, care and emergency response on the frontline are at risk of developing mental health problems linked to the current Covid-19 crisis. My work as counsellor and psychotherapist is focused on improving the psychological wellbeing of keyworkers who have been providing frontline services during the pandemic.

"In some cases, the pandemic is the ‘tipping point’ for psychological distress, rather than the source" - Evelyn Sharp, Fellow

When individuals are exposed to highly stressful, overwhelming, distressing events, there is an increased risk to their mental health and emotional wellbeing. This includes a greater likelihood of developing mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), particularly when exposure to these events is prolonged or repeated.

The impact is wide-reaching. People may find that their personal relationships suffer, or adopt unhelpful coping strategies such as increased alcohol consumption. Some individuals will need time off work, or even leave careers that they are skilled at and have previously found immensely fulfilling.

Covid-19 has many unique factors that can traumatise even those workers who are highly experienced in working in stressful and emotive environments. The increased demands on services can create overwhelm and exhaustion. Many previous outlets for self-care and stress reduction have been curtailed during lockdown restrictions. Frontline workers are exposed to increased human suffering and loss. Crucially, those working directly with Covid-19 patients in the medical and caring professions face the terrifying prospect that they might transmit the virus to other patients, thereby causing harm or death, or bring the virus home to their own families and loved ones. All these factors greatly increase the overall risk to the psychological wellbeing of a wide range of professionals during this unprecedented time.

To mitigate this problem, I am providing short-term counselling and trauma therapy to frontline keyworkers. The sessions are delivered online, which ensures safety in terms of Covid-19. I provide this service within my small private therapy practice, and the funds from my WCMT Covid-19 Action Fund grant cover my costs and crucially, enable me to deliver these sessions free of charge. This activity benefits keyworkers by enabling them to access free, timely psychological treatment to address the psychological impact of Covid-19.

Like my Fellowship, this project is focused on working therapeutically with trauma. During my Fellowship travels, I visited the USA and learnt how drama, music and dance can aid healing from trauma. One area I learnt about was the unique impact of mass trauma, an area of particular relevance during the current pandemic.

Longer term, there will be a great need to find ways to facilitate reconnection and rebuilding from the global trauma of Covid-19. I am interested in exploring ways in which I could further draw on my Fellowship findings to consider the role of the arts in supporting this process.

It is important to be aware that workers across a diverse range of professions are being placed under immense stress and exposed to traumatic events due to the pandemic. The impact of this is long-term, and I hope that additional psychological support services are not withdrawn prematurely.

In some cases, the pandemic is the ‘tipping point’ for psychological distress, rather than the source. Often individuals will find that Covid-19 appears to have activated something difficult from their past, such as a previous experience of trauma, adversity or loss. It is important to be aware of the impact of previous adversity and trauma, which can create additional vulnerability in the current time.

A final reflection for me is that positive relationships with others are immensely helpful for providing both protection and healing from the impact of trauma. We cannot underestimate the impact of the isolation of lockdown, and the importance of finding ways to maintain connection with others during this time of great uncertainty.

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