I love what I do, and I feel guilty if I’m not always available. I have mixed emotions. I also feel exhausted and ambushed. Is this really happening?” sighs Radhika Bapat, a slight young woman, her thoughts restlessly vacillating.
In other times, these are questions that she would have been fielding to help others battle their anxiety and fear. But for the first time in her career, Bapat, a clinical psychologist, found herself experiencing the same emotions alongside them.
One of the hardest parts of being a therapist — in high demand during the pandemic — has been the parallel experience of helping too many clients cope with crises that they have been going through themselves.
Bapat says her caseload was manageable last year. “People were dealing with shock and threat but were more careful and responsible. This year we’re mostly dealing with panic and grief.” By March this year, Bapat had become her own client who could barely fight the urge to turn away clients or terminate therapy.
The blurring of boundaries too took its toll. Telepsychiatry became the new normal in the pandemic after the central government allowed it for the first-time last year to help people access therapy from their home. The Telemedicine Society of India in February recorded an increase of about 302% in online mental-health consultations.
To beat the burnout — or compassion fatigue — mental health professionals have been seeking therapy to examine their own emotional state.
For Bapat it was about choosing between her clients and her sanity. “On one hand, you know their problems are real and the distress palpable but when your phone is continuously buzzing with SOS messages or you’re added to a WhatsApp group without consent, it gets too much to take.” In March, she took help.