Top advice on how to practice self care amid COVID-19 from Austin therapists
By Trinady Joslin, Photography of Rakima Parson by Jason Blackwell and Sharon Edmond by Yolanda Cooper
As Black women, Rakima Parson, Deanna Harris-McKoy and Sharon Edmond spent the summer emotionally navigating the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic and the racial trauma of police brutality.
As therapists, they open their laptops day after day to help patients work through these same events.
All three women have been providing telehealth services to clients throughout the pandemic. They say this new way of digital-only care, paired with the constant current news cycle, hasn’t come without challenges.
But each woman is adjusting to support patients and care for themselves.
To start the day, Edmond says she begins by meditating and understanding where she is mentally before checking her devices. She takes a lunch break every day and steps out to walk her dog to help reduce screen time wherever possible. She also says physically separating work and home, if possible, is key.
“We have to be able to separate those energies so that they’re not kind of bleeding into each other,” Edmond says. “We just don’t want that because it’s too hard to be able to let go and release what you need to release in order to then move into yourself and your family.”
To begin and end her workday, Parson says she physically leaves a space and re-enters it, normally by taking a walk.
“Physically opening the door and leaving [is]symbolic of having a start and stop to my workday,” Parson says. “With [work]being home, you can go back and forth and kind of pick things up. So really, I’m being intentional about this is the time I said I was going to stop this.”
Traditionally, Parson says her sessions with clients provide a natural break from screen time. Now, they mean even more of it.
“I have to just be mindful about like, ‘Okay, I need to go outside [or]look out the window,’” Parson says.
During this time, Harris-McKoy says she’s trying to maintain seeing the same number of patients to keep her workload, and quality of care, steady.
Though she wants to help as many as she can, she tries to remember that she doesn’t do this work alone. When other therapists of color team up to shoulder the load they can avoid a collective burnout.
“Black women have always been supportive of everyone I think, and sometimes to our own demise,” Harris-McKoy says. “I think…one of the things that as women of color therapists we have to balance is being there for other people, but then also not being superwoman and still thinking about our own mental health…I have to take care of myself if I’m gonna be here for the long run.”
All three women say holding emotional space for clients is a significant part of their job. To be able to do that, Edmond says it’s important for therapists themselves to practice self-care and self-awareness.
“There’s a lot of self-work you have to do, especially during this time, [to]understand what your beliefs are, what you’re holding on to and what you’re bringing to the table really,” Edmond says. “[You have] to understand that and be able to put that aside for the moment in order to support [clients].”
One of Edmond’s ways of working on herself is ensuring habits like her morning meditation don’t become a mindless routine and are always about doing internal work, rather than getting something from an external factor that may not always be available.
“Sometimes it’s such a learned behavior that you forget why you’re doing it, it just becomes part of your day,” Edmond says. “Even though it’s helping you, it starts to become something that is no longer about checking in sometimes.”
Another common self-care pitfall, Parson says, is the idea that people need to earn it.
“Sometimes we delay self-care, because we think, ‘Okay, I’m going to do all this work, or I’m going to get all these things done, and then I’ll deserve to take care of myself,’” Parson says. “I want to really help people to understand that self-care should be a part of our daily lifestyle.”
As therapists, Parson says they’re trained to take care of themselves and talk about self-care. Though they have additional skills to help them cope, ultimately, they aren’t immune to feeling everything that is happening.
“It is a unique experience that humanizes therapists to our clients; it’s a shared experience,” Parson says. “It’s something that we can even use therapeutically to be able to talk about so people can learn more and say, hey, therapists aren’t immune to the wave of emotions that happen when you’re experiencing a pandemic or racial trauma.”