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Resilience and covid: three testimonies of psychologists

by Raquel Tomé

The healthcare community is considered one of the most resilient and capable of bearing great emotional burdens, but during the Covid 19 pandemic, we psychologists face a great personal challenge: keeping ourselves mentally balanced and resilient while providing psychological support to others.

Twe had in our hands something as important as the emotional well-being and mental health of the population.

During this monumental challenge almost all of us to a greater or lesser degree pass through situations laden with anxiety. ?How we supported and supported each other?

witnesses

Two colleagues have shared their experiences, Guillem Fouceprofessor of Psychology at the Complutense University of Madrid and coordinator of the Health and Consumer Area of ​​Getafe City Council, and Ana Isabel GutiérrezHealth and Legal Psychologist.

And I have also dared to share with you my personal testimony as a Health Psychologist and Psychotherapist and member of the Duel Care Program of the Official College of Psychology in Madrid during the pandemic.

We want to convey to them what helps us and what psychological tools we use to face difficult conditions and personal adversities and turn them into opportunities for growth.

We break down our stories here:

Guillem Fouce

Guillermo was hit by Covid19 in his family at the beginning of March 2020 while he was immersed in setting up and coordinating psychological telephone support teams with different institutions.

His parents fell ill, were taken to the hospital and admitted to the ICU the next day. Three weeks passed filled with uncertainty and anxiety, called escarides, sleepless nights. Despite so many efforts it could only be done and both died within a week of each other.

This deep personal tragedy was compounded by the fact that a few months later he also became seriously ill, admitted to the ICU. This time he explains that he was lucky and was saved. He still struggles with some of the after-effects of this experience today.

The psychologist Guillermo Fouce with the psychologist Raquel Tomé/ Photo provided

Ana Gutiérrez

Ana excitedly shares how her father, a 77-year-old doctor, suffered a relapse of an illness and soon after died after being infected with covid.

It happened at the beginning of 2021 and for that time she was allowed to stay with him to take care of him. During his hospitalization, he transformed the bathroom into his personal online practice and continued to attend to his patients.

His father, in the phases where he was improving from his illness, attended to his patients by telephone. “An example of courage, strength and responsibility”, recalls Anna with pride.

The disease was progressing towards the final moments and the inevitability of death and he put all his effort into saying goodbye and accompanying his father with all his love:

When a person is in a state of great need is when we are most needed, when they need us to caress them, run our hands over their heads and ask ourselves: what can I do at this moment for that person that is good for them? I was looking for comfort, to say “I love you”, to show affection, because even when consciousness fades we don’t know what degree of contact with reality they may have”.

Psychologists Raquel Tomé (esq) and Ana Gutiérrez/Photo provided

Raquel Tomé

For me, it was Good Friday 2020 and my 85-year-old mother, who lived in a Residency for the elderly in Carrión dels Comtes, began to feel the first symptoms.

After a few days she was transferred to the Provincial Hospital where she was admitted to the Covid19 plant.

They informed me that he was suffering from double pneumonia. And, we enter a critical period. Her condition was rapidly deteriorating and I was warned over the phone that she would not be transferred to the ICU but that I would be notified so that I could be discharged.

I lived in Madrid and was just like her, scared, but I knew how important it would be for both of us to see each other for the last time and to have the chance to say goodbye.

As an integrated bereavement therapist, every day I comforted and dealt with people who were distressed and feeling guilty because they could not say goodbye to a family member and tell them everything they wanted to or take care of their final care.

I knew the indelible mark that this leaves and that in the future I would also need it to go through a normal duel. So I decided to travel without knowing very well if the police might stop me on the way to change my autonomy.

It was very important when I got to the hospital to talk to the doctor and have him explain to me in person the medical reasons for not putting her in the ICU if she got worse.

I worried that she was dying, that she wouldn’t recognize me, wouldn’t know what to say, find the words to comfort her in the loneliness of her isolation. But seeing us had a healing effect. See the loving and caring environment of the hospital as well. It helped us both. In me to accept and understand that the suffering could not be prolonged if it got worse. But the most beautiful thing is that with that unexpected visit she felt a lot of surprise, joy and raised her mood, from that moment she got better and beat the disease.

Psychologist Raquel Tomé, author of the articles “Resilience: hand in hand with the virus”/Photo provided

Psychological tools

As I write this article and review our testimonies I think we all agree on something. We had one huge advantage: the knowledge that our profession brings us. Nothing better than these circumstances to use them thoroughly.

And no one better than us to be aware of the high level of stress we were facing and the need for support and help to process the grief and anguish of the disease and its aftermath.

I think that the fact that we are psychologists means that we naturalize emotional support and we seek out and use all available strategies to navigate pain and distress.

Because being resilient does not mean that a person does not experience difficulties or anxieties. And, the way humans test ourselves and develop resilience is likely to involve enduring considerable emotional distress. But we also know that resilience is built and that there are behaviors, thoughts and emotions that predispose us to it and that anyone can learn and develop.

Thus, Guille set out to elaborate the death of his parents honoring their “legacy” of trying to change and transform the world. He left frontline psychological care and began a healing journey telling his story to the media, imparting his knowledge of grief and sharing all the strategies he and his family used.

Ana and I go through similar difficulties. We are both experienced psychotherapists and we are on both sides of the border giving assistance to people who were going through moments of special difficulty and stress similar to ours.

He explained one in our favor long professional experiencehaving passed through other difficult stages in life in the past allowed us to be trained and used to identify and manage our negative emotions, emotionally self-regulate and support our patients.

We kept our balance, but we relied on colleagues who added their reflective stance on the context we were living in, family, friends, partner and in my personal case my therapy was important.

Ultimately, we struggle to maintain our ability to “mentalization“. And, this is key because it is equivalent to the reflexive function. In other words, the one that allows us to better understand ourselves and others in terms of thoughts, feelings, beliefs, desires and expectations. And interpret the behavior of others in intentional terms.

Mentalization is severely affected by stress. And, therapists need this reflexive function and it is presupposed for us to accompany and guide patients.

Do not succumb to help

Since we are all vulnerable people it was very important to be attentive to our self-care and not succumb to help. So, while we couldn’t help change reality or their circumstances, if we could help:

* Validate and reflect on the ways in which we perceive and process stress.

* Foster empathy and curiosity towards themselves and others.

* Observe and learn from the perspectives of others.

* Understand with compassion our limits and difficulties.

But there’s another key element that all three of us used and that was introducing a meaning to the equation of suffering. Because as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross said:

You grow if you don’t hide your head in the sand, but accept the suffering trying to understand it, not as a curse or a punishment, but as a gift given with a specific purpose”.

And, if I am sure of anything, it is that the scars of this tragic experience have deepened our humanity, it has made us grow in aligning with our human values ​​and as Psychologists all three of us commit to the mission to spread that learned because we understood how a great opportunity to help.

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