Sharing Our Stories: Alumnae Stories from the Pandemic
Lisa Taubenblat ’95 is a psychotherapist in a clinic setting and private practice in New York City. She graduated from NYU Silver School of Social Work in 2003. She works with adults, couples and families and focuses on mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, trauma, chronic illness, aging concerns and multi-generational conflict. She is a certified divorce mediator. She was inspired by the former AADC Extern Program, in which she participated at a child welfare agency in Colorado. Here is her story, shared on August 20, 2020.
My experience these last few months is framed in the context of my role as a psychotherapist working within a clinic population in Brooklyn.
Remote work began mid-March with “teletherapy” at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City. My experience mirrored the socio-economic disparities of the city. My clinic is located in a working class Italian-American community in south Brooklyn. People were instantly hit with the illness and death of many friends, neighbors and family. Suddenly, out of nowhere, they were looking for support for multiple tragic losses. The acute trauma and number of clients managing their grief was overwhelming.
Patients spoke about the hum of morgue trucks in the funeral home parking lot down their block. I could hear the constant ambulance sirens through a video or phone session. A patient had a young nephew, a new father, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 and died within a week. A beloved lifetime neighborhood physician died alone in the ICU. His family couldn’t have a funeral. A 9/11 survivor re-experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. An 87-year-old woman reminisced about wartime air raids.
Stepping into my study in my Park Slope, Brooklyn, home each morning, putting on the sound machine and closing the door to begin my work became moments of dread. After my day, I would come into the living room or kitchen to say to my husband and 15-year old son, “Another day of death and destruction.”
There were quiet times when I wasn’t actively engaged with patients that I would be overcome with sadness and grief. I would cry and wail in deep pain, releasing the loss I was holding for others.
As a clinical social worker, there are moments when it is impossible to avoid internalizing pain. It is this compassion and empathy that allows us to do this meaningful work. I will never forget the first patient who died from AIDS in the 90s or the young woman in an inpatient unit who committed suicide. The vicarious trauma of hearing unreal horror stories while managing my fear of COVID-19 for my own family was excruciating.
As New York began to bounce back and the crisis became more normative, I found that I stabilized. I had pushed through and so had my clients. I still hear about the continuous losses, including minimal contact with loved ones, educational disruptions and financial blows. They are often coupled with anger and fear regarding political protests and other volatility. The uncertainty of the course of COVID-19 and our political future creates a spectrum of anxiety.
Yet, resilience is surprising. Inspiration came from many people I have worked with during the worst of this crisis. An elderly woman told me, “There’s no guarantee in life – do what you can when you can do it. If it only costs you money, you got away cheap.”