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Being a psychotherapist, mindfulness and self-care comes relatively easy to Bengaluru’s Meera Haran Alva. In the past few months, however, all her skills have been put to the test. With complaints regarding stress, depression and other mental health problems increasing among her clients because of the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, Alva often finds herself exhausted by the long working hours. The not-so-smooth transition to online consultation because of poor internet connectivity has added to the tiredness.

“Internet breaks interrupt the pace of the session, which leaves me and the client frustrated. We are mindful of the frustration. I experience screen fatigue after just four sessions. This was not the case before and I am grieving the loss of in-person sessions," says Alva.

Alva is not the only mental health expert facing these problems. More than 62% therapists admitted experiencing varied levels of caregiver fatigue in a nationwide survey of 159 mental health experts, conducted by Bengaluru-based NGO Suicide Prevention India Foundation (SPIF) in June.

The transition to online working, working from home and juggling family responsibilities along with sessions, has added to the pressure on psychotherapists, says Dherandra Kumar, president-elect, Indian Association of Clinical Psychologists.

Roma Kumar, co-founder of online consulting platform Emotionally, agrees that the current situation has taken a toll on therapists as well. “Clients are quite demanding and there are times I have been in a state of constant worry. Therapists are trained to be caring and compassionate but they are also going through emotional fatigue, exhaustion and burnout, especially the young therapists," explains Kumar.

What’s also concerning psychotherapists and counsellors is the rise in suicide ideation and self-harm during the past five months. Mental health platforms like InnerHour and YourDOST have seen similar trends. InnerHour has seen a four-fold increase in demand for sessions, YourDOST has noted a 120% increase. According to the SPIF survey, nearly 65% therapists have seen a rise in self-harm and suicide ideation among clients since March. Over half the therapists said individuals who had made a recovery had relapsed. This increases the pressure on and the workload of the limited number of psychologists and counsellors.

Clinical psychologists with health and well-being app InnerHour have been advised to take breaks after a few sessions, and are encouraged to talk with peers to share their thoughts and feelings. “It’s a new situation for us too, and we are constantly adapting," says Shweta Bothra, lead psychologist at InnerHour.

Setting boundaries for how much time a therapist can give to a session, and being compassionate towards one’s own emotional experience are important, says Kamna Chhibber, head (mental health and behavioural sciences), Fortis Healthcare. “Reaching out to one’s supervisor, peers or mentor if one is struggling is crucial," she says.

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