Bill Taekema has seen the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic firsthand.
The Brampton psychotherapist knows in addition to the deaths, illnesses and economic costs, the pandemic has threatened the mental health of people who have been living for a year under extraordinary stresses and their world turned upside down.
“I would say (I’ve seen) more clients due to the pandemic,” Taekema said. “People are struggling financially, emotionally, socially and in family relationships.”
Some clients have been hit by the double whammy of economic losses reducing their ability to seek psychotherapy at a time when they feel an even greater need for it.
“Instead of coming every week, maybe they have to come every other week or once a month because of financial constraints,” said Taekema, a Gestalt psychotherapist and owner of Therapy By Bill, said.
“Without a source of income, for some people, it is a struggle getting the money to do things such as therapy,” he said.
Mental health struggles are made worse by isolation and the inability to see loved ones, he said.
During the pandemic, Mental Health Research Canada found Canadians haven’t been going to therapy. The study found the number of people going to their therapist dropped to three per cent from 22 per cent. Online therapy has only increased to four per cent from three.
Brittany Barratt, a Hamilton psychotherapist with Rebound Total Health, said talking to a therapist, even when things aren’t going wrong, helps enhance mental health.
“It builds up those protective factors that make it easier to go through life for us,” Barratt said.
Under the current crisis, therapists must also ensure their own well being, she said.
“COVID has definitely put limitations on our own emotional capacity as well from a therapist perspective,” Barratt said. “It’s really imperative that now more than ever therapists are practicing what they preach and taking care of themselves.”
Many people feel pressure to soldier on and not admit to feelings of stress and anxiety. But experts are trained to detect subtle indicators of worry, burnout and exhaustion.
“It’s still possible to hear in their voice,” said Terry Simonik, a psychotherapist for more than 30 years and co-director of the Toronto Institute for Group Studies. “I can hear their emotions, I can tell. I can hear them, I can sense when they’re calmer.”
Therapists have been providing services online during the pandemic, which while it is less satisfactory than in-person sessions, for some people it does have the benefit of reducing time for travel and freeing it up for other duties.
Some services are available by text, which, during the pandemic, is sometimes enough to help a client through a difficult patch.