Sharmin Akhter

Wed May 20 2020 04:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

43971S A

“In the Bangladeshi community, we rarely sit with our feelings before diving into problem-solving mode. Maybe it’s due to our selfless nature or because we’re taught our actions are worth more than words and feelings. I began to wonder if this ideology was the root cause of me feeling so helpless and insecure as a Bangladeshi therapist enduring COVID-19.

The first week of shut down, clients looked to me for answers on managing their anxiety and I remember feeling numb. My mind was a whirlwind of loose thoughts with nothing to offer. I tried to snap out of it and jump into researching evidence-based practices only to be disappointed in the mediocrity of what was available. I was excited to collaborate with a few other therapists in hopes that they might have the answers I was desperately seeking. To my surprise I was met with a group of strong, intelligent therapists whose affect matched mine: flat, drained, and struggling to make sense of this global crisis. So this wasn’t just a “me” thing. We’re collectively mourning, and being in the mental health field doesn’t buy you immunity.

I needed to step out of my role as a clinician, stop trying to intellectualize the pandemic away, and meet with my clients human to human. Showing up with my own vulnerability, my child running wild in the background, and laughing together about Zoom freezing was a powerful opportunity to deepen my connection with my clients.

Upon reflection, I noticed I was doing what my Bangladeshi counterparts did in the face of a crisis: whenever there is sadness, love is shown through food and kind gestures, but the underlying feelings are never dealt with. I too, wanted nothing more than to “feed” my clients knowledge and wisdom to expedite their recovery. In a state of panic I forgot to help them unpack their feelings first, maybe because it meant that I had to look at my own. Since then, I found my balance as a therapist navigating COVID-19; I couldn’t do it until I gave myself permission to grieve and take care of myself first, a step that’s sadly too often missing from our culture's process of helping.”