Mental, Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Health
Dr. Thomas Hellwig, KDVI Associate
Covid-19 will affect us in one way or another and the emotional impact is here to stay for some time. This session likens the current crisis we are experiencing to collective trauma and shock and explores the different emotional reactions and mechanisms for emotional healing and rebalance. Each theme was explored with regards to the impact on individuals and others (our clients).
The current COVID crisis creates a new demanding work environment that seriously affects employees’ mental health. Fear and uncertainty heavily influence behavior of the general public . Concerns are numerous and focus on personal and family safety, coping with isolation and quarantine, existential fear of job and income loss and the hope for effective treatment and prevention are among the most commonly mentioned.
From a psychodynamic point of view our emotional journey through the current crisis is filled with grieving work: grieve for the loss of normalcy, the loss of connection and economic toll. This process can last for years, long after the onset of the initial crisis. This means that recovery work is here to stay. It also profoundly changes the work that is coming. How does this change how we look at the grieving work during and post crisis?
Several frameworks were provided to understand recovery work in the aftermath of trauma:
Figure A. Phases of Psychological Reactions to Disasters and Trauma
Adapted from Zunin & Myers as cited in DeWolfe, D. J., 2000 
Recovery work embraces both sides of the coin.
During this rollercoaster, we experience dichotomies between heart and head, oscillating between doing (activity) and being (feeling) and experiencing fluctuating emotions, both positive and negative.
According to researchers and medical professionals, the longest stage is disillusionment, leading up to more productive reconstruction. This is also a phase where initial optimism turns into discouragement and continuous stress takes a cumulative toll. With the future scenario or “new norm” in construction, this seems to be the place where many may find themselves for a while: trying to be optimistic and active; at the same time, carrying with us the sense of loss, ambiguity of the broader context and the limitations of their efforts. This also means that while people have a strong desire to move on, the situation and their “emotions have not caught up yet”, as one attendee astutely noted.
Interesting finding during the KDVI learning lab
Most individual self-assessment shows them rather in the phase of Disillusionment but perceive their clients in the Heroic fight back or Honeymoon phase. Using a psychodynamic lens this can refer to defense mechanisms and taboos in showing the feelings of fear and anger, especially in the professional realm.
Figure B. Elements of focus during the emotional healing process
Emotional healing is a “long and bumpy” road with many potential risks to mental health in the months ahead of us . It involves restoring balance mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Discussion on what can be done for healing and recovery revolved around connecting to oneself, accepting/letting go, and being vulnerable. This can help simplify and create focus on what we can put energy into. In terms of their clients−with many of them currently in fire-fighting mode−the need to take a step back to reflect was highlighted to reconnect to themselves and their feelings and consider: what are we learning in this space and how can we unblock this?
Key to accompany the emotional healing process is to embrace both sides of the dichotomies rather than suppressing one for the other. We are all part of the problem and part of the solution to help ourselves and others. Opportunities can arise out of this insight for all of us personally and for the work we engage in within the KDVI network.
 American Psychiatric Association. Coronavirus and Mental Health: Taking Care of Ourselves During Infectious Disease Outbreaks, accessed on 25April 2020
 DeWolfe, D. J. (2000). Training manual for mental health and human service workers in major disasters (2nd ed., HHS Publication No. ADM 90-538). Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Service
 Pfefferbaum, B. and North, S. Mental Health and the Covid-19 Pandemic. New England Journal of Medicine, April 13, 2020