As a clinical supervisor, in addition to helping my supervisees process the anxiety they and their clients are experiencing during the pandemic, I believe it is equally important to dedicate time in supervision to processing the grief and loss aspects associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Here I share three practices I used when attending to grief and loss issues during clinical supervision since the onset of COVID-19:
- Addressing Loss of Pre-Pandemic Normalcy
As a supervisor, I view it one of my greatest responsibilities, as the coronavirus continues to disrupt communities around the world, to acknowledge that people everywhere, and in this case, my supervisees and their clients, are experiencing the loss of pre-pandemic normalcy. I believe it is important to address this and leave room for it during supervision. For example, at the onset of “going virtual,” when talking with my supervisees during supervision, we discussed not only their own loss of normalcy, but also worked together to anticipate ways their clients might be experiencing simultaneous loss during this transitional period. We also discussed in supervision how to elicit protective factors from clients as well as the importance of offering them the opportunity to process how they are personally adjusting to their new “normal.”
- Expecting Disorientation
Simply functioning during a pandemic is a challenge, and the effects of the pandemic leave many of us feeling disoriented and overwhelmed. As a result of this, I have found it important to discuss in supervision that, while social-distancing taken as a preventive measure is essential for us to slow the spread of COVID-19, it can also undermine aspects of clients’ daily functioning, particularly in clients who have indicated benefiting from the stability of having a routine. For many clients, these losses can be disorienting. For example, within the caseload of clients I supervised, a number of them had primary presenting issues surrounding employment and school-related challenges. Due to a number of health precautions that these clients took because of the pandemic, the clients who had these issues were not only experiencing disruptions in the domains of employment and schooling, but also in gaining access to emotional support from their support systems and having regular interactions with other people.
- Identifying Risk Factors and Supports
At the beginning of teletherapy, a number of clients were concerned they would not have access to the technology needed to virtually stay connected with significant individuals in their lives. In these cases, it was crucial for me to discuss with my supervisees how to work with their clients to identify individuals who could provide them with emotional support. We also talked about ways to navigate this conversation therapeutically, particularly with clients who were more susceptible to social isolation. Knowing the clients in my caseload and that social isolation is a risk factor for a number of health-related concerns, including depression, I found it highly beneficial to leave room in supervision to talk about not just my supervisees’ clients and their social support systems but also my supervisees. This yielded conversations not only about support systems, but also self-care, an essential aspect of being in the role of counselor.
Also, in addition to the adjustments and transitions and non-death related losses people are experiencing due to COVID-19, I am also acutely aware of how people around the world and in our communities are experiencing the deaths of loved ones. Overall, while this time is challenging and calls on us to utilize our skills in new ways, I find comfort in knowing that I have supportive people around me personally and professionally. While I aim to be honest with my supervisees about challenges I face during these changes, I also see it as equally important for me to model resilience to my supervisees at this time, as counseling interns should model this for their clients. Ultimately, it is my hope that we will all leave this experience with increased skills and confidence that allow us to be more equipped to handle events like this for ourselves, our supervisees, and our clients in the future.
Amber M. Samuels is a doctoral candidate at The George Washington University working toward a PhD in Counseling and a Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor (LGPC) in the District of Columbia. She is board-certified as a National Certified Counselor (NCC) and is an MBTI® Certified Practitioner. Amber takes an intersectional approach to counseling and utilizes an integrative theoretical orientation to guide her in helping the individuals she works with move toward optimum mental health. Her research centers around using research as a tool for advocacy and as a way to inform culturally sensitive clinical practice. You can learn more about Amber at https://www.linkedin.com/in/itsambersamuels/