NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Importance of Getting Emotional Support During a Crisis

We all need emotional support at some point in our lives.  This is especially true during a crisis when fear and anxiety can be overwhelming. So, it's important to seek emotional support to help you get through a crisis (see my articles: Coping and Staying Calm During the COVID-19 CrisisCoping with Loneliness and Isolation, The Powerful Impact of Kindness and Self Compassion: Loving Yourself--Even in the Places Where You Feel Broken).

The Importance of Getting Emotional Support During a Crisis

Feelings of Shame and Embarrassment Can Create an Obstacle to Asking for Emotional Support
Too often people think that they're "supposed to" manage their own fear and anxiety on their own, and they feel ashamed to ask for help (see my article: Fear and Shame Can Be an Obstacle to Asking For Help and Overcoming Your Fear of Asking For Help).

This is especially true for individuals who lived through traumatic chilhood events where they had no emotional support.  Miraculously, most of them learned as children how to fend for themselves as best as they could--but at a serious cost to their psychological well-being.

In many cases, not only were these individuals unable to get the nurturance that they needed, but they were often involved in a role reversal where they were expected to be the emotional support for their parents (see my articles: Children's Roles in Dysfunctional Families).

Being able to overcome your shame and discomfort of asking for emotional support can be challenging.  People who are afraid to ask for support anticipate being criticized and rejected for their emotional needs because they were often shamed by the adults in their life for needing love and support when they were younger. (see my article: Overcoming Your Discomfort With Asking For Help).

These children often grow up to be adults who feel that they're a burden if they ask for help.  So, they try to go it alone, which only exacerbates their fear, anxiety and loneliness (see my article: Adults Who Experienced Trauma in Childhood: Living in the Present As If It Was the Past).

We Are Hardwired For Attachment and Emotional Connection 
The truth is that we are all hardwired for attachment and emotional connection from birth.  It is one of the most basic needs mammals have.

In fact, infants who are only fed and changed without nurturing and touch either don't survive or, even if they survive physically, their brain development is compromised. They need nurturing and mirroring from their primary caregiver for brain development, especially the right side of the brain, which develops first and is primarily where emotional development occurs (see my article: How Early Attachment Bonds Affect Adults Later On).

So, in addition to understanding that feeling loved and cared about is a basic need to survive and thrive, we also know that this need doesn't end when you become an adult.  We continue to need nurturance and emotional support our whole life.

Psychotherapists Develop Their Own Emotional Support Groups
People who provide emotional support to others, like psychotherapists, also need their own emotional support system because we are the "containers" for other people's fear, anxiety and grief, so it's important for us to have emotional support.

I'm fortunate to be in a group of peer clinicians who have been meeting for about 16 years.

Originally, the purpose of the group was to share information, including methods and tools learned in conferences and workshops, about mind-body oriented psychotherapy, which is also known as experiential psychotherapy (see my articles: Experiential Therapy and the Mind-Body Connection).

Over time, as we got to know each other better, we also became a source of support for each other in doing clinical work with clients and in times of crisis.  And, eventually, in addition to being a peer support group, we became good friends.

Since the latest crisis developed, we are in regular contact with one another, even though some of the group members have moved out of New York City.  We have been meeting on online video platforms and talking over the phone about once or twice a week to sustain ourselves through this difficult time.  I can tell you that it has made a tremendous difference for me.

When I was in graduate school and even in my four year fellowship/postgraduate training, I don't remember any of my instructors talking about the importance of having a support system outside the clinical setting. That was more than 20 years ago, and I hope that graduate and postgraduate programs are now encouraging therapists-in-training to develop emotional support systems.

Of course, we had supervisors, advisors, mentors and our own required three-time-a week psychoanalysis as part of postgraduate training.  They were tremendously helpful, but I quickly realized back then that I would need a peer group as well, especially during the first couple of years of the fellowship.  That period of time was particularly stressful because most of us felt we were having a "fish bowl" experience in our training where we were being observed as therapist- in-training.

I was fortunate that there were three other clinicians who felt the same way, and we had a lot in common other than our training.  So, we would often meet for coffee or brunch for mutual support and also just to have fun.

Any therapist who tries to go it alone, especially a therapist in a solo practice, usually burns out pretty quickly doing this work.  So, I always recommend to new therapists in the field to develop a support network.

Resources For Emotional Support
I realized that not everyone is fortunate enough to have close friends or nurturing family members to call upon in a crisis, so I'm providing the following resources for anyone who might need them:
  • National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Disaster Stress Hotline:  1-800-985-5990
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
  • NAMI HelpLine: 1-800-NAMI (6264): Available Monday-Friday between 10 AM-6 PM EST
If you're feeling suicidal and you are in imminent danger of hurting yourself, call 911 immediately.

Getting Help in Therapy
You're not alone.  If you feel overwhelmed, you can seek help in individual therapy.

During this time when we are urged to stay home, many psychotherapists are doing phone and online video sessions.

Working with a licensed psychotherapist can make all the difference in getting through times of crisis and beyond.

Rather than trying to go it alone, you could benefit from working with an experienced psychotherapist who can help you develop the skills and tools that you need to stay calm and cope.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP , Somatic Experiencing therapist and Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for Couples  (see my articles: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy and What's the Difference Between "Top Down" and "Bottom Up" Approaches to Therapy?).

I works with individual adults and couples.

One of my specialties is helping clients to overcome traumatic experiences.

I am trained and experienced in trauma therapy.

During the current crisis, I'm providing phone and online video sessions.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.