Clinical Conversations: Helping clients and colleagues cope with COVID-19 anxiety

Wasatch Crest’s Clinical Director, Rich McDonald, CMHC, discusses ways to help colleagues and clients cope with the pandemic’s mental health effects. Watch his full presentation below.

Dealing With Collective Trauma

The pandemic has resulted in collective trauma for all of us. When a large group of people suffers from massive trauma, there is a shared emotional bond between the wounded individuals. Essentially, collective trauma is a shared experience of helplessness, disorientation, and loss. There are many experiences from the past that we can look at when trying to understand collective trauma. Slavery, the Holocaust, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and 9/11 have all resulted in collective trauma. 

Initially, following a traumatic event, people generally come together. We saw this after 9/11 and in the early days of the pandemic. As the pandemic has progressed, our fight-or-flight adrenaline has subsided and crisis fatigue has set in. The pandemic has become an exhausting endurance race, but the threat is still real. 

Though no one knows exactly what the long-term resolution will be, the pandemic’s circumstances aren’t completely foreign. We do know how infectious disease spreads and we’ve been able to control outbreaks in the past.

Coming Together

Still, it’s difficult to predict what the long-term effects on the human psyche will be because there are so many factors that were not in play in previous massive traumatic events. In the past, when we’ve undergone a crisis, we’ve been able to connect with others in-person. Technology has helped stay in contact with people, but it falls short of standing in for face-to-face connection. 

The current response has been focused on maintaining our physical health, such as wearing a mask, washing our hands, and wearing gloves. It’s also important to come together as a community. We need to focus on how we can support those around us, be it our staff, clients, or families.

One of the biggest threats to recovery is isolation. Clients have shared that the isolation brought on by the pandemic caused them to slip. The biggest way that we can support people who are trying to get sober is by connecting with them.

Focusing on Solutions

Social distance does not have to mean emotional distance. We should encourage people to really tell you where they’re at and how they’re doing. Try hosting an unstructured video conference by having a meal together with time to just talk.

It’s important to remember that people respond differently to crises, and we cannot minimize anyone’s fears. We should promote compassionate dialogue, allow emotional responses to occur, and help people identify healthy coping mechanisms. 

Movement and exercise can also be helpful. Setting goals to go for a walk, run, or hike can foster feelings of accomplishment and control.

Focusing on the solutions, staying out of the fear mindset, and seeking to understand each other can help get us all through this difficult time. 

About the Author

As the leader of Wasatch Crest’s clinical program, Rich McDonald, MS, CMHC, has created a clinical culture that empowers clients to rewrite their stories and develop meaningful lives. Rich brings over 25 years of leadership experience and ten years working in the recovery community.

Leading with respect, accountability, and acceptance, Rich embodies Wasatch Crest’s human-centric treatment approach. He’s passionate about incorporating nature into recovery and is dedicated to helping clients build lives worth staying sober for.

Rich is an avid trail runner, and has successfully competed in many marathons, ultra marathons, and 100-mile trail races.


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