Coronavirus, Tone-Deaf Therapists, and the Hysteresis of The American Family

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Coronavirus, Tone-Deaf Therapists, and the Hysteresis of The American Family

What is Hysteresis?

If you push on something, it will yield…but when you release, does it spring back entirely to its original shape?

If it doesn’t, it is exhibiting Hysteresis. Hysteresis is a profoundly appropriate word for our times. Here’s a direct example of Hysteresis.

Imagine that you’re using a knife and fork to cut a particularly tough piece of meat. After you’re done, the fork doesn’t return to its original shape. The shape of the fork depends on its history.

If you keep using that same fork to cut tough meat, after being bent back and forth many times, the fork will actually become stiffer…and then finally snap in two.

Hysteresis measures the impact that persists after the initial causes are removed. I guess you could say that hysteresis is a measure of resilience.

The coronavirus crisis will compound structural damage to American business, employment, and public finance. As the COVID-19 crisis “washes through,” our battered economic and financial system may take a while to recover.

The additional stress to American marriage and family life may also be significant.

Trauma, Grief, and Ambiguous Loss

In the 1970s, Dr. Pauline Boss coined the term ambiguous loss. An Ambiguous loss is a loss without understanding or closure. A person grappling with ambiguous loss is left without a clear narrative, devoid of understanding, and unable to finish the work of grieving.

Therapists helping clients with ambiguous loss work with the underlying trauma and seek to restore their client’s inherent resilience.
According to Dr.Boss, one of the unpleasant truths of ambiguous loss is that you can’t help a client grapple with their ambiguous loss until you have resolved your own.

Tone-Deaf Couples Therapists and Coronavirus

As a field, we have a lot of work to do.

Yesterday, as a thought experiment, I scanned the websites of most of the high-profile couples therapists in New York, New Jersey, Washington State, and California.

I chose those four states, not only for their large population of couples therapists… but also for their prominence in the struggle against COVID-19.

My focus was on the messages conveyed about this global pandemic on their websites.

Most, (about 85%), were utterly tone-deaf. I know that sounds harsh, but they said absolutely nothing about COVID-19 on their websites, which still had language suggesting that they were still conducting sessions in person, although that was obviously not the case.

A few (around 10%), had the equivalent of bumper stickers which explained that they were now only doing “telehealth” sessions because of the global pandemic. But only a handful (under 5 %) actually engaged the public, revealing some of their thoughts and feelings about our collective calamity.

I certainly expect this to rapidly change, and I see increasing evidence every day that it is. Therapists are huddled in Facebook groups in deep dialogues about how to best engage their clients.

And I offer no criticism toward my colleagues. Therapists are human too. We’ve all been blindsided. But it does underscore the significant work we have in front of us as a community of practice.

We have all experienced an ambiguous loss, and if we are to be of service to American marriages and families, we’re going to have to confront this loss in a deeper and more profound way.

The Work Ahead for Mental Health Professionals

Here we are, hovering over this tough situation with our bent forks.

Until the coronavirus peaks, the next two weeks will be characterized by even more economic uncertainty, sickness, and death. It’s estimated that nearly a quarter-million souls will be lost in the United States alone due to this unprecedented crisis.

We have a responsibility to the marriages and families that depend on us. We need to show up…and we need to be ready.

“After tragedies, one has to invent a new world, knit it or embroider, make it up. It’s not gonna be given to you because you deserve it; it doesn’t work that way. You have to imagine something that doesn’t exist and dig a cave into the future and demand space. It’s a territorial hope affair. At the time, that digging is utopian, but in the future, it will become your reality.”— Björk

About the Author Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He is the Blog Editor. He currently works online seeing couples from Massachusetts at Couples Therapy Inc. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.

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