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On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is led by reporter Syeda Hasan and is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

How Mental Health Professionals Are Coping With The Strain Of 2020

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The COVID-19 pandemic and police brutality protests can weigh heavily on anyone's emotions. But who helps therapists and other mental health professionals process their emotions in times like these?

"I think part of what helps us to move through it is to admit that we are also struggling, that we are very human and we have our own struggles," says Cyndi Doyle, a counselor in Denton. "We have our own emotions about these situations." 

Doyle spoke with us to shed some light on how counseling has changed this year — and how the professionals tasked with caring for others' mental health have been coping, themselves.

Interview Highlights

On how COVID-19 has changed things:

It's really changed the way we provide therapy, actually. Clinicians and clients who were really reluctant to have relationships via screens were forced into doing it.

Also, clients that were hesitant — like maybe they hadn't thought about doing therapy that way — have been pushed to say, "You know, I do need help, and I guess this is going to be the way I'm going to have to do it." So, it's definitely provided some change in the way we do therapy.

The other way it's changed are the issues that are coming up. I had clients that we'd processed through trauma they had experienced. But then COVID wound up almost stirring that past trauma back up. We had never been through a pandemic before, either as a client or a clinician.

It was confusing. Like, what is this? What's going on? What are we all feeling? And as a clinician, as a counselor, I was trying to figure out what I was experiencing and how it relates to what my client's experiencing. 

On the protests against police brutality:

I think it probably had an impact on clinicians, counselors nationwide. There's a lot of conversation. We were just going through COVID and kind of getting to a place where we felt like, "Okay, I can breathe." 

The pain that has been felt all the way around this situation — with racism, with police — it's hard because we are going through our own feelings, too.

"When we have our own pain, we have to work extra hard to stay in a healthy space for ourselves, so we can be there with our clients and not let those emotions get tangled up with theirs."

It's different than just having a client come in and talk about their own situation. We are personally going through COVID. We are personally going through the pain that the country is going through as well.

So when we have our own pain, we have to work extra hard to stay in a healthy space for ourselves, so we can be there with our clients and not let those emotions get tangled up with theirs. 

On who she seeks for help:

I actually have many clinicians that I work with, myself, and help them to work through it. I have an amazing network of clinician friends and just friends in general.

The Marco Polo app is my life-saver little bit right now. You send a video back and forth to each other. If I'm struggling with something, I might send a video text. So, you send it off and then they respond, but it's nice because you can see each other's spaces.

It's so important for us to feel plugged in. I am plugged in through various communities. I'm really active in the Texas Counseling Association, which is a huge network for me. I'm really plugged in with some other networks throughout the country that have an amazing group of clinicians.

We have to be very open and vulnerable. Being honest is really important. With the groups that I have, and even the my cohort of folks at my own practice, it's essential that we are just honest with each other and that we lean on each other.

That's really who helps us out — we lean on each other.

 Interview highlights have been edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Justin Martin at Jmartin@kera.org. You can follow Justin on Twitter @MisterJMart.

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