The Virus: How can you tell if you are Sick or Health? A psychotherapist reflects

The bread and butter of a psychotherapist's job is dealing with their patients mainly inner (but sometimes outer) states of mind. This involves dealing with both healthy and sick aspects of the patient. Our public culture focusses on the "healthy" side, and usually buries the "sick". What now?

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The world has been turned on its head.  As a psychotherapist, I hear about individual difficulities and maladies.  People don't generally come to speak to a therapist about how wonderfully their life is going (although of course that is some part of what is discussed).  They usually come to wrestle with matters that distress them, and cause them pain.  Often they seek to examine unconscious patterns and recurring themes that they haven't been able to resolve by themselves.

The virus has inverted our psychological perspective.  The "wellness" industry has been replaced wholesale by the "sickness" industry.  Before the virus, every free magazine handed out at the train station had sections on "well being tips from your local shaman", "how drinking water changed my Chi!" and "how to recharge your sex live in 20 seconds."

Now there are pictures of morgues, cemetries, and masked crowds.  Instead of counting our steps or heart rates, we obsessively monitor our temperatutre, and breathing, finding ourselves quick to declare we have the virus, or the conclude that we've already had it and are now immune.  

Both these states of mind are human.  As psychotherapists we know that people are both healthy and sick at the same time.  We know that people have the capacity to enjoy life, to take pleasure from living, and to find deep satisfactions.  We also know that bad things happen, people get ill, lose their hearing and sight, degrade, fall apart and die.  Both these polar opposite are part of being human.  In normal times we focus on the "healthy" part of the mind.  Unusually, we are now focussing on the opposite.  We are all forced to confront our own mortality, or those around us.  Although we know that the elderly with underlying health conditions are most at risk, we also harbour the thought that a healthy younger person could die as a result of contracting the virus.

There has been some commentary on the fact that younger people are still socialising and were going out to bars and restaurants.  The commentators were projecting onto the young, the sense of omnipotence we all have from time to time.  This omnipotence tells us that we are invincible, that we won't get ill.  Other people will get "sick" but not us.  If we get "sick" we will bounce back.  This heroic attitude may well prove true,  but if we take the fate of mythical heroes seriously, we know that many of them die young, or find themselves seriously wounded.

The hardest thing to do is to generate the conditions between the "healthy" and "sick" states of minds, or parts of ourselves.  Perhaps the next few weeks, with the restrictions on our outer life, will force us to dialogue with our inner lives.  Carl Jung called this form of extended active day dreaming, which can be done whilst attending to domestic chores, "active imagination."  He often practised it whilst engraving stones, or making sandcastles.  I wonder if this shut down provides us all an opportunity for an enriched inner dialogue?  Every day we are thinking about global events, such as the various tragic deaths around the world (outer catastrophies), and these events will touch on our inner thoughts and states of mind (how we are; how our family members are coping).

Some people carry this process out with their therapist, others prefer to write, draw, paint, or find some other creative outlet.  This concrete expression can help the dialogue become more real and tangible.  

Ajay Khandelwal PhD

Ajay Khandelwal is an experienced psychotherapist and consultant. He welcomes contact and enquiries and is accepting new clients via zoom during the shut down.


Go to the profile of Tara Nishiya
almost 2 years ago

I am drawn to you.  Even before I knew your gender, profession, sexual orientation etc.  I guess that is referred as "resonated".

I have what you refer to as "active imagination" as I do "domestic chores" esp cleaning with greater vigour given the global focus on killing virus causing bacteria with soap.

As I was on hands & knees cleaning the toilet; my "enriched inner dialogue" echoed.  "Posh pee, posh pee, posh pee".

How do I repair a relationship where the reluctant posher pee feels vilified that I had the audacity to ask; esp as he lives in my flat (as he owns none). RTA🙏