Demand for therapy has skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic. Many mental health professionals say it has been difficult.
For the final WESA 90.5 series interview on the mental health of Pittsburghers, science and health reporter Sarah Boden spoke with Mike Elliot, who runs a therapy practice in Squirrel Hill where several of his clients are. other mental health practitioners. Elliot said COVID-19 has changed the way he practices.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Sarah Boden: Many therapists I spoke to on this series told me they felt exhausted, overwhelmed. Providing therapy during COVID-19 has been a kind of endless walk through an impossible situation. Did you feel exhausted?
Mike Elliot: I am fine now. He comes and goes. At first it was really difficult because you learn all the technology [to practice remotely.] And you still see the same customers you saw, but now you can see them all remotely from your living room. And they’re all showing up now because they’re not stuck in traffic and don’t have to quit work. So you end up seeing a lot more customers than you normally would.
But on the bright side, I can see what their world is like in a way I have never seen before. Maybe before they show you the picture of the cat, or “This is that picture I was working on in my art studio”, or whatever. But now you see, ‘Oh, you have 14,000 boxes in your living room. We’ve never talked about hoarding before. Maybe we should talk about it, right?
Boden: I know a number of your clients are therapists themselves. And then your practice has 10 therapists and you are the boss. So how are your colleagues and clients dealing with the stress of the pandemic?
Elliot: Well, that’s a lot. It’s a lot to deal with. But I think when we have support everything in life is easier. A lot of my therapy clients, I’ve been seeing them for a while. So [in sessions], we talk about their marriage or the problem with the boss or this trauma that happened when they were six years old. We don’t talk much about the pandemic, although it does come into play. It makes everything more difficult, but it’s almost kind of background noise.
Boden: Obviously, with this huge demand, you cannot accept all the customers. It would just be too much. Is it difficult to say to someone, “I’m sorry, I don’t have room for you on my schedule? “
Elliot: Oh, it’s extremely hard. But that’s also why we have grown so much. You know, there were (sic) two of us before the pandemic. We are up to 10 now because the need has not gone away, and we could hire more.
Just today, I picked up a client for whom I’m going to have to figure out how to fit it into my schedule because I’m full. You know, I say to my therapists all the time, ‘If you’re full, you’re full. Know your limits and stop. But this particular client fits in really well with my specialties, like ‘Uh, no I can’t not see you’, right? And that’s a danger. You can do one or two. If you do more than that, you’ll get yourself in trouble.
Boden: As a journalist, I sympathize with this. There are a lot of important stories, and knowing that I’m not going to cover a story means that maybe something really important isn’t getting attention.
Eliot: Part of that, for me, is understanding that not only is it good personal care for me, but it is also good care for my existing clients, because if I don’t say “No” I will do a less decent job.
But also, I cannot solve the hunger in the world. I cannot get world peace here tomorrow. There are (sic) a million things that concern me that I would like to make a difference in. But I can’t tell a difference in everything. So I could fight and say, ‘Well, hey, I have to do more’, or say, ‘Hey, I’m doing enough, you know? And if there’s another way I can help that is suitable, I will.
Like, we just hired an intern so we can help train the next generation of therapists. You know, by helping train people and supporting my staff, it increases the number of people I can help. Ditto when therapists come to me for help. By helping them create lives worth living, they then help other people create lives worth living.
This story was produced as part of “Pittsburgh’s Missing Bridges”, a collaborative reporting project of the Pittsburgh Media Partnership.