Coping with COVID
Coronavirus has changed the way LOROS staff work and none more so than our counselling team. Here we talk to Tracey Hughes, counselling and bereavement services manager to find out how the support they offer is more crucial than ever.
How is LOROS supporting patients and their families that require counselling during lockdown?
We’ve been completing sessions by the telephone – there have been no face to face appointments. It’s added a sense of difficulty with new appointments as we’ve never met the client before and have to build the relationship. Some people quite like it but for others it’s very hard, as they enjoy the continued relationship with LOROS .It adds a complexity not seeing someone’s body language or facial expressions.
Our counselling team are adapting to a whole new way of working. You listen for the dip in tone of voice which indicates maybe they’re feeling low or sadness, we thoughtfully question, “do they sound different to how they sounded last time we spoke?” We can’t see the difference so what can we hear in their tone of voice? Their intonation, are they quieter, has something happened? From there we will build the conversation and gently explore their nuances, feelings and emotions.
How are people coping mentally with lockdown?
COVID 19 has changed people’s perceptions of everything.
Normal strategies for coping primarily consist of who is around to support them, who is their “go to” person. All this certainty has been taken away from them. I try to encourage people to think about different things they can take comfort in, what do they like? Nature, their garden, reading or listening to audio books, playing or listening to music, meditating, drawing or writing their story?
We adapt to people’s individual circumstances, what’s meaningful to them? Can they name it now as a strategy for their own self-care and resilience in their world?
I build a relationship based on what is around them, so I’ll ask ‘what can you see around you? What do you like?’ Do you have a favourite blanket which makes you feel secure? Or a favourite jumper that you can wear? It’s about trying to find those new strategies that will help them feel safer.
Most clients are really happy to talk. I have patients who are at the end of life and they are wondering if they are actually going to live through this, listening to and supporting those fears and feelings is how we guide and help people to honour their unique life. They may not be able to tell anyone else but they tell us we hear it and that in itself gives some comfort.
We have clients who are isolated by their circumstances and by Covid 19, we offer a consistency in these restricted times that is welcomed and needed.
What do you think the long term impact of coronavirus and lockdown is going to be on people’s mental health for those in bereavement?
It’s my experience that people are holding their grief. It’s just being parked until some sense of normal times begin to be experienced again. People are unable grieve in what would be a normal way, funerals are difficult to arrange and limited. People are not there when their loved one dies unless they have permission and are wearing PPE. It’s unthinkable in normal times but very real now.
Grief is often expressed through different emotions and anger is a familiar one that people feel concerned about, we normalise those feelings and reassure people that it’s ok to be not ok. These emotions and feelings may well be enhanced because of the current circumstances. Death only happens once we can’t go back and do it again, families want to get it right for their loved one it’s
important, we will hear these stories and honour each one, using the skills and knowledge we have to begin to find a way that people can grow around their grief, and have the knowledge to give themselves permission to just be, no expectations, no rules about how they think they should behave, just the time to grieve in their own unique and individual way.
How are young people coping?
Caroline Rogers, LOROS’s children and young people’s counsellor, is still working with young people. Some are happy to speak over the phone but more want to wait for face to face appointments.
Caroline is talking to schools about preparing for the wave of grief many students will be feeling when schools reopen. Schools are trying to prepare for this whilst they are closed, they are planning for the impact of Covid 19 and the complex grief it may potenially bring. Caroline is helping staff to understand how it may affect young people and how to support them.
Caroline is available to contact to discuss any concerns with schools, Monday to Thursday during the week.
How is LOROS supporting its own staff during this difficult time?
Myself and our chaplain Stephen are spending some time on our inpatient ward trying to support nurses. We have a family room on the ward and I’m often in there in case staff need support. They are very professional but they need a place to go so that they can have a laugh, have a cry, have a shout. Psychologically it’s important to know the option is there during a 10 hours shift. I hear nurses saying, ‘I’ll never forgive myself if I bring it home to my kids’, so there is enhanced anxiety.
There’s huge camaraderie amongst clinical staff which is a great support. We have this ongoing joke about PPE – you can’t see people’s facial expressions when you’ve got the full kit on so you don’t know how people are reacting to what you’re saying. I could be making a face at you when you’re talking, It’s a way of letting off steam, you can usually see people’s eyes smiling so you know there is a sense of ease, and we all need that.