COVID-19, counselling and wearing a mask

April 7, 2020

PPE Mask

Stock Photo by Ani Kolleshi on Unsplash

COVID-19 has changed the way that many counsellors are working. It has caused me to reflect on wearing a mask. Not the theoretical mask described by Sigmund Freud, an actual mask.

I’m a bereavement counsellor at a hospice, I work face to face with loved ones pre and post bereavement but I also work on the in-patient unit, where I now have to wear gown, gloves and mask to protect patients.

I was reflecting on that. How does this change me? I certainly feel more constricted. I’m uncertain of whether the patient can understand me. They can only see my eyes do they know that I’m friendly? That I’m on their side? Can they gauge who I am at all? If I tease someone do they understand that it’s a joke?

I realise at 7am on Sunday morning that this has had quite an effect on me. I’m still speaking the same language, but having fewer social cues has made me very uncertain about the message being given and received.

Lightbulb moment… I used to work for a charity called Facial Palsy UK and for those of you who don’t know who they are, they support people who have facial paralysis – partial or total. The list of causes is long, with more than 50 different ways that facial palsy can be caused, including Bell’s palsy, shingles and tumours.

Adults who had grown up with facial difference used to tell me that they had a hard time as a child not just from the other children but from adults as well. Can you believe that a school photographer said “Don’t pull that face” to a little girl born with facial palsy?

Adults who have facial palsy often describe feeling socially awkward, and work harder with posture, gestures and tone of voice to make sure that they are understood. I find myself doing this too.

In our new socially distant society, if you wear a mask in public, see how you feel. Watch people’s reactions and then maybe have your own lightbulb moment when you realise that you are  judged on appearance both by yourself and other people.

Lorraine Thurston, Bereavement Counsellor.

Facial Palsy UK comment: Some people with facial palsy working in health care have told us that they love now having to wear a mask, because they are not afraid to laugh anymore. It is thought provoking to hear two different sides of how people are adapting to the changes brought about by COVID-19 and the necessary use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

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