There have been many comments on how leaders are responding to Covid 19 and what we as coaches, therapists and OD professionals should be doing to support them (and ourselves). I have not yet seen a deeper psychological analysis that provides some practical guidance on where to look and what to do during this time as a coach, OD practitioner or therapist. So here is my thinking on this.
What I am seeing in myself and in others is a loss of empathy and a move to the transactional. This is broadly an unconscious move that is intended to enable me to deliver on my parenting, work and study duties. It is a defence against the pain, uncertainty, fear, frustration with living conditions and other worries that I am experiencing at this time. Some of the other defences I have seen in myself and clients include trying to control everything, catastrophising, denial, irritability and getting angry, hoarding, idealisation, splitting including racism (and in particular towards China and Chinese people), compulsive news watching, fragmentation, etc etc
All these behaviours distract ourselves and slow down the digestion of information about our new world. This allows us to feel less overwhelmed and able to act, and is in this sense a normal and healthy response to a traumatic situation such as this. But, it also reduces our understanding of what is happening and slows down a more contextual response. In some cases it may even remove the requirement of making a contextual response, because if we are in denial, then we don’t need to make any changes to our identity or ways of being in the world.
Sadly we do have to come to terms with this new world, we have to deeply digest our experience and the world as it is (not as we are in it), and roll with the changes to our identity and way of being. And our clients do too. In my experience it is not useful to spout facts or push to get information into clients. So I want to suggest a different approach which is working actively with psychological defences, learning how to identify and manage these so that we can more fully grasp what is happening in the world and respond to this more proactively.
We could explore how we and our clients have internalised difficult information before, how these habits of digestion have developed over the years and how we can become aware of their impact and thus take in more information about our/their current experience. We can find ways to honour our defences and their footprint in our lives and at the same time move beyond them to understanding and responding effectively to what is happening in the world.
If we do this, we and our clients have a better chance of responding appropriately to this context. We can live better now and set ourselves up for the post-covid 19 world in a strategic way that makes sense for us and others.
By Julia Kukard