Face coverings in the therapy room

At the beginning of lockdown I was adamant that face coverings within the therapeutic space would not be a good thing and that I’d rather not offer face-to-face sessions if we had to wear them. Five months on and I’m having to think again. Whilst many of the people I work with are content to remain on online or phone platforms, a few are keen to get back into the room to meet face-to-face. So I’m doing what we have to do when changes occur…adapting to the situation. Meeting face-to-face won’t be mandatory but it feels important to begin to offer this platform to those who would really benefit from it as long as we can do this in a safe (enough) way. I imagine a flexible attitude towards session platforms whilst maintaining the therapeutic frame in other aspects.

I’m sure many therapists have had conversations with their clients and supervisees about how different each platform might feel to each individual and I imagine having those same sorts of conversations in the coming weeks regarding the mandatory use of face coverings. Some won’t want to try it, some may try it and revert back to online work, others will simply be relieved to be back in 3D however that can happen. What feels key to me is that we honour diversity in all its forms. Whilst I can’t imagine being able to cope with wearing a face covering all day, particularly during the summer, I am prepared to try it and see what it feels like both for me and the other person in the room with me. I will be assessing how each client feels about it, but also how I experience it. Can I maintain my standards behind/looking at a face covering as this is not something I am used to? How will I know? 

A few days ago I ventured into the bank in town. It was one of my first trips out since lockdown began. It dawned on me, emotionally, wearing a face covering and sat opposite someone wearing a visor and gloves behind a screen that this is what the ‘new normal’ was going to look like and that I had to engage in a huge shift mentally if I was to adapt to the change in the sad reality we find ourselves in. 

So, here I am having discussions with people about whether they would prefer to stay online or try face-to-face sessions with face coverings. Of course, some people will be exempt so individual conversations will need to take place. This raises a question for me about exemption rules: I will not be asking for proof of exemption. I will explain the exemption rules and trust that the people I work with know themselves better than I do and don’t have to prove who they are. Many of the people I work with already have to prove they are using the correct toilet, that they are disabled enough, that they are trans enough, so I won’t be adding to the indignity of requesting proof of exemption.

In the safety of home it has been possible to pretend, albeit momentarily, that the pandemic was simply a nightmare and all will be well tomorrow. But here is the reality: COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future and we need to find ways to continue with living and working rather than putting life on hold until it’s all over.