Last spring, I attended an end-of-life planning course. Part one was the dry stuff: will writing, lasting power of attorney and medical arrangements. Part two was the wet stuff: preferences for our death, talking to family, death clearing and funeral planning. Prompted by my Mum’s death a year earlier, I wanted to get my own affairs in order.
I did not imagine that a year later, we’d be experiencing a global pandemic which has already killed thousands and is ripping up all social norms for contact and connection. As social distancing and self-isolation for survival become a reality, I believe that the counselling profession has a central role to play in helping our families, communities and workplaces adapt to new extremes. We’re in uncharted territory – our clients may not yet know what they need, but we can still offer a container and psychological safety, albeit in different ways.
I’m remembering the training day which BACP Workplace held two years ago, 'Prepared not scared – are you ready to respond to a critical incident?' Helping both our clients and our organisations to explore their fears and to psychologically prepare for the worst, are paramount. It’s humbling to experience the relief of clients who are given permission to speak about their fears, for themselves, for colleagues and for loved ones. Understanding our fear is an important part of being able to change behaviour and limiting the potential for harm.
Rachel Clarke, a palliative care doctor, wrote that there is now a glaring imperative to confront the topic so many of us long to squirm away from: the inescapable fact of mortality.1 Death and dying is one of the last taboos, but our profession has the skills to help people to have difficult conversations and to help stop them from slipping into an abyss of fear and loneliness. Resourcefulness, creativity and a willingness to find new ways of working, which serve our clients and our organisations, will be essential.
Isolation is an inherent risk in our profession, so we must watch our own health and guard against an increasing sense of being alone. As we contain the anxiety of others, let’s stay connected and look after each other. In our lead article, you can read about how workplace specialists have been supporting their organisations to respond to COVID-19. The strength of resolve I’ve witnessed is best summed up by Anne Scoging, Head of the Counselling and Trauma Service at the London Fire Brigade: ‘The attitude of my team is, “We can do this; we are robust and we will get through this.”’
Editor, BACP Workplace