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Unfamiliar circumstances

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Care and support, Communities, Coronavirus

New coronavirus guidance aimed at all social care practitioners and managers responsible for providing services to adults in the community has recently been published by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. It draws upon approaches to challenges informed by the emotional, societal and practical impact of the pandemic on individuals and organisations.

Jo Williams is a social worker and senior lecturer in the Trust's Social Care Leadership and Management portfolio. We are delighted to share her reflections on the events leading to this point and the tools, assets and strengths we can all call on to sustain ourselves, our colleagues and those we care for in these unusual times.

Reflection of sunset in a lakeReflections on present times

A month ago, Fran Leddra and Mark Harvey, our Joint Chief Social Workers for Adults, focused on the importance of maintaining connections in our relationships in the midst of the viral pandemic affecting communities around the world.

We have since seen a rapid increase in self-isolation and social distancing to minimise the heightened risk of infection to vulnerable groups.

These and other measures have required many of us to find remarkable bravery and creativity within ourselves, in order to maintain these connections and develop skills to navigate our new landscape. I have spent some time reflecting on the huge adjustments we are all making and the range of emotions they conjure up.

This brings about paradoxical feelings of the ‘disconnected connection’ to others, as we find ourselves ‘together apart’ and strive to maintain familiarity in unfamiliar circumstances.

Italian management professor Gianpiero Petriglieri recently tweeted: “It’s easier being in each other’s presence, or in each other’s absence, than in the constant presence of each other’s absence.” I think this beautifully captures the profound new world we find ourselves in.

What I have noticed, is that thinking is much harder to do, perhaps because the realities of our situation are sometimes too unbearable to think about. It is difficult for many of us to compute what is happening. This is a new experience for which there is no internal working model - yet.

Compass and mapUnnavigated territory, unlived stories

We are all faced with the challenge of navigating how to look after ourselves and others in the face of something which is far too big for us to manage.

We may find it hard to express our fears or accept our very deep feelings of uncertainty around impending loss and the unsettled reality of not knowing when this situation might end or how it is likely to manifest as a ‘new future’.

A social work colleague, an expert by experience of mental illness, once said in his lecture to a group of student social workers, “you are the custodians of our hope”.

It is important to remember this, when we are perhaps experiencing hopelessness ourselves. Small acts of kindness and thoughtfulness, which are all within our agency, offer some comfort amidst the vast unchartered territory we find ourselves in.

We all have the beginnings of a story within us, yet to evolve. These unlived stories can take form through learning new ways of being and creating new ways to live.

At the moment, the uncertainty and disruption that everyone is living with is extreme and ongoing and most people find high levels of anxiety hard to manage.

Social workers and their managers need to take care of themselves and each other physically, emotionally and psychologically, as they respond to a high level of need.

Supervision, time off and other self-care will be more important than ever, to allow all of us to continue to provide services effectively.

When the world becomes unfamiliar, it is all the more important to remember what is familiar. This situation requires us to hold on to the ordinary, everyday practices and ways of relating that we can rely on. This is the consistency that our service users need and what we can provide.

The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust has produced some guidance which aims to help practitioners make sense of the impact of the global pandemic.

The guidance addresses some of the emotional, psychological and psycho-social factors brought about by COVID-19. It explores the impact of the crisis, followed by a range of recommendations for managers and staff for looking after themselves and each other. We hope you find it useful.

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  1. Comment by ola balogun posted on

    this is a beautiful piece. it creates the awareness of the need to carry on doing what we know best (our professions) and yet appreciate that this is a difficult time
    to support out clients and each other. we need to be there for each other all the way.

  2. Comment by Joanne Earley posted on

    You find strength you didn't know you have in these circumstances. Working in community care; so many of our clients are so very grateful to have us in their lives that it is an honour to be their strength. Being able to work has given us a precious sense of normality in circumstances that are any thing but. We have had to change working practices at the same time as our home and personal lives have suffered as well. The new normal is a strange world.

  3. Comment by Samantha Lally posted on

    The physical impact of coronavirus gets a lot of attention. Having had it, I think it is important to share the emotional effects too.

    Getting diagnosed with COVID-19 was a shock. As a social worker and practising AMHP I’d taken all precautions to keep myself and others safe and always wore PPE when out on duty.
    I’d seen plenty on social media about people struggling to breathe, then being admitted to hospital and dying soon after. I remember lying in my bed scared, wondering if my breathing would return to normal.

    I was drenched in sweat and full of anxiety. I couldn’t stop visualising myself in a hospital bed, attached to equipment to get me enough oxygen. I truly thought I was going to die. I’d worked myself up into such a state that irrational thoughts were flooding my logical senses.

    I could hear the sound of my own thoughts asking to spare me.

    During this whole experience I’ve found myself going through different stages of processing what was going on. There was denial – this cannot be happening to me I took precautions. Then it was anger – why me, what have I done to get this? Then, later, there was a peace of mind. I accepted I would never know how or why I got the virus.

    Eventually I physically started to recover but I also placed a lot of attention on allowing my mind to heal. After my symptoms started I had to stop work for obvious reasons but I made sure I did things that relaxed me and gave me a sense of hope.

    It is important to stay positive, give your friends and colleagues a call. It really helped me to hear from my manager and colleagues through messages, calls or emails. It made feel I wasn’t alone and this wasn’t my fault. That was important because I initially blamed myself for getting the virus.


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