When I was young, I would say things like “I don’t see color. Everyone is equal”. I was idealistic. I was naïve. My younger self didn’t understand my white privilege. It took years into my adulthood to realize why it’s imperative that I do see color.
The song Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist from the musical Avenue Q sums it up perfectly:
Everyone’s a little bit
Doesn’t mean we go around committing
Look around and
You will find,
No one’s really
Maybe it’s a fact
We all should face.
Based on race.
Most people take pride in saying they are not racist. Most of us don’t want to be racist. The reality is we have been brought up in a society that has embedded stereotypes into our psyche. Our country was built on slavery. We have interacted with older generations who grew up in a different time and unintentionally used words or phrases that are not politically correct and quite honestly never should have been allowed. We would like to believe we know better and are more aware, but it takes a lot of thought and effort to be better. It requires us to admit our ugly racists thoughts. We have to OWN them in order to stop them. It means admitting remarks we’ve heard from loved ones along the way and standing up to others when it’s easier to be quiet. It means risking relationships and accepting that some people will never fully understand. I’ve done the work and it is hard. I still have much more to do.
The world is not color blind, nor should it be. We must see color in order to see the injustices that exist. We can do better. We need to do better.
Coronavirus struck and weeks later New York City (along with everywhere else) essentially shut down. One day I was telling my clients I would be in the office for the foreseeable future and a mere three days later I was contacting everyone to tell them my plans had changed. I quickly signed up for VSee, a HIPAA compliant virtual platform, and tested out how to use it. Similar to many other people I did not know how long it would be until I was back in my office. Truth is, I still don’t know.
Here I am two months later conducting almost all my sessions in a virtual way. A few clients have found speaking over the phone, without seeing one another, works too. For the most part I still “see” everyone. In some ways, I see more of people than I did before. Clients are calling me from their bedrooms, living rooms, studio apartments where I get to see a living room and a kitchen, and home offices. I’ve seen my client’s children and sometimes their spouses. I’ve seen how they’ve decorated their apartments or, if they’ve temporarily left the City, their childhood bedrooms. I’m getting a glimpse into my clients’ life in a different way and it’s not all bad. When I’m in front of my screen and they’re close to theirs it can sometimes feel as though I’m in even closer proximity to them than if we were sitting across from one another in my office. Their face, in particular their eyes, are looking at mine in a different way. Similar to how they’ve gotten used to speaking to friends and colleagues through a virtual lens we too have been navigating this new territory together. Yes, I am missing out on many nonverbal communications. At the same time, I am still able to see the moments when a client deeply sighs or tenses up in their chest, neck, and shoulders. Just as clearly as if someone was in my office, I still see the tears stream down someone’s face.
It was important to find a way to continue. People wanted to talk and they needed an outlet. We discussed how it felt seeing each other in this new way and everyone said it was okay. They wish they could see me in person but this is a good alternative. Things aren’t perfect, sometimes the WIFI isn’t working as well in someone’s home or there is a slight delay on the virtual platform. I’ve also noticed times where it’s harder for people to shut out work since we are talking through the computer and a work email or chat will occasionally pop up. Similar to when a phone goes off in the middle of a session and a client hits decline (usually) we get right back to where we were. We continue to jump back in time and time again.
This is a trying time for everyone and having someone there to solely listen to you and help you figure things out is as necessary, if not more so, than before. Together we’re making a conscious effort to make this new way of therapy work and we’re succeeding. One day I’ll be back in my office sitting across from a client face to face and we’ll be talking about how strange it feels. Funny to think only two months ago that’s what we were saying about speaking virtually.