The Fells & Dales network of counsellors met on 17th April, of necessity using an online meeting platform. We all agreed it was ‘second best’ to meeting in person, but we still managed to offer one another support and share our thoughts. Even before the coronavirus pandemic it had been suggested that we might spend a session on the theme of anxiety, so we had no trouble finding a context for our discussion. As a change from more academic papers, the pre-read comprised three recent press articles: ‘Advice on how to cope with coronavirus anxiety’ by Bill Merrington (York Press 17/3/20), ‘The secret excitement that lurks beneath our distress’ by Matthew Parris (The Spectator 20/3/20), and ‘I was born anxious, so why am I not panicking about coronavirus’ by Adrian Chiles (The Guardian, 25/3/20).
We noted that anxiety and fear have spread as rapidly as the virus, and commented on clients’ differing responses, from feeling even more alone and isolated than usual, having their pre-existing underlying anxiety heightened, to feeling less ‘different’ because everyone else is anxious too. We agreed on the importance of being containers of our clients’ (and supervisees’) anxiety, whilst also trying to cope with our own. Whereas with most issues clients present, we may not share their experience but we are still able to empathise by imagining how they might be feeling, sometimes based on a commonality of experience. However, with anxiety around the coronavirus, we all, without exception, have our own anxieties which we have to contain. We are with our own ‘story’ at the same time as trying to attend fully to our clients’.
We identified some of the key principles of working with anxiety, including mindfulness/calming/breathing exercises, normalising and contextualising, managing rather than ‘solving’, and exploring the triggers. The remarkable stoicism exhibited by many was observed, but we also wondered what would follow in the aftermath of the ‘lockdown’, and what the presenting issues might then be.
The differences between face-to-face and online working were discussed in some detail – practical, technical and relational. We acknowledged the need to be grounded, prepared and confident, in order to be true to ourselves and own way of working, and to remember that we are interacting with a real person and not a computer screen. As with in-person therapy, it is hopefully our intentionality that communicates our care and compassion.