ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Empathising with COVID-19 Trauma

Psychologist as Survivor

A psychologist reflects on his experience of being a COVID-19 caregiver, juggling survivor’s guilt and a fear of infection.

 

The trust- and empathy-based relationship between a healer (or “therapist” in modern psychology parlance) and their client forms the foundation of healing. It helps the client formulate an enabling meaning in life through cultural discourses about self and well-being and develop a sense of community or solidarity in understanding and addressing structural inequalities. As a psychologist passionate about healing psychological trauma, I have been studying and researching post-disaster mental health rehabilitation of disaster survivors in India for two decades. Interestingly, for me, there has been no clearer lesson in understanding survivors’ trauma and healing than my own struggle to come to terms with and facilitate medical care for my parents, sister, and brother-in-law as they fought moderate COVID-19 symptoms in April–May 2021. In disaster- or trauma-related literature, a “survivor” is not only a person who undergoes injury, illness, or torture but also a person who has witnessed such traumatic incidents closely. I am a survivor in the latter sense. My experiences as a person and a psychologist have also empowered me to empathise with the survivors’ overwhelming fear of infection while providing care, and survivor’s guilt, realising the need for collective healing of the underprivileged survivors of the pandemic in India. Writing about these feelings of guilt makes it resurface in my consciousness, and this has not been easy for me. But that guilt is exactly what many survivors of the pandemic go through.

For the period of three days that I was there with my family in Noida as a caregiver, I was constantly reminding myself that I needed to remain healthy and uninfected so that I could provide care while also not infecting my wife and kids when I returned to Kanpur. In protecting myself to keep others safe, I was overcome by compulsive behaviour of having quick interactions with each patient three to four times a day; staying on a separate floor of the three-storeyed house in Noida; sanitising everything. For any caregiver, keeping vigil for an extended period of time often leads to physical and mental fatigue. I can now empathise with this fatigue, as I too had fever, body ache, and gastrointestinal problems three days into caregiving. Naturally, I wondered if I had caught the disease too, but my RT-PCR test returned negative. My fear and compulsive behaviour had reduced a bit upon returning to Kanpur from Noida, but not my survivor’s guilt—I was fine but others in my family were suffering.

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Updated On : 27th Nov, 2021

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