• In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, 300+ welldoing.org therapists are offering free therapy to NHS doctors, nurses and support staff

  • Clients are suffering exhaustion, stress, anxiety, depression and PTSD

  • If you are an NHS worker, access the list of therapists and counsellors offering three therapy here

It’s 10 months since welldoing.org asked its practitioner members if they were prepared to offer free therapy sessions to hard-pressed NHS staff during the Covid crisis. Generously, more than 300 of them answered the call, and we began to help those people who were working at the frontline of the greatest health crisis this country has seen in more than 100 years. 

The last month [January 2021] has seen all records from the first wave of coronavirus infection beaten with a rapid expansion of patients in hospitals, patients on ventilators, patients who have died. We are now close to 100,000 dead from the effects of Covid in the UK, and we lead the world in deaths per million with little chance of that particular accolade being claimed by any other nation.

In today’s Times Clare Foges wrote: “Last week a study by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine and the University of Bath revealed that during the first wave of the pandemic 45 per cent of doctors working in emergency medicine, intensive care and anaesthetics reported psychological distress, while 20 per cent were showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. King’s College London research undertaken last summer found that one in five nurses had frequent thoughts of self-harm or suicide. 

“These figures show the damage done by the first wave, which was shorter and less deadly than the present one. Now that the pressure is more intense, staff more wearied and spirits more frayed, the fallout is bound to be worse.”

Speaking to therapists who are providing free weekly sessions to help these individuals cope with the huge mental health stress, it is clear that they are hearing a lot of exhaustion and distress. Ian Richards, a sex addiction therapist in Warwickshire says that he is counselling three NHS workers – two doctors and a nurse – and one of the common threads between them is “there are always tears on our calls”.

“They have all seen such a lot, including deaths they feel they could have prevented. They often feel  burdened by guilt.”

In addition to the awful scenes they have witnessed, these clients are working very long hours (12 hours shifts are common), are very often having to deal with seriously depleted teams due to illness and the increase in patient numbers, and they are terrified of being infected or passing coronavirus on to loved ones. Also, each of them has lost a family member to Covid.

Another of our therapists, Peter Davies, who lives on the Wirral, took on a 25-year old doctor in his first job, at the beginning of the free therapy offer. “He felt literally thrown in the deep end, in a Covid ward in a small hospital, wondering whether he was up to it at all, if he would even be able to help. Even now, he wonders what will come in the door next? The other day a patient of 29 died, so close to his own age. This is seriously affecting.

“He tells me that talking to me helps, and he’s not suffering from PTSD so far. But he’s seen so much, been through so many individual life-changing episodes, while also trying to balance his life, his relationships, and move forward with his career.”

Both therapists said that their clients are reluctant to talk to family and friends about what they are seeing: “it is simply too awful, so talking to me is offloading some of it for them,” said Richards. 

The generosity of these therapists, and the thousands who have joined up with other organisations with similar offers, such as Frontline19 and ProjectFive, is very impressive. While we understand that not all in the therapy profession approves of this offer, as they believe the government should be paying therapists and counsellors to provide this essential service to frontline staff, it is still chosen by several hundred of our members. 

Peter Davies told us that his young doctor client, whom he has now seen for more than nine months, had offered to pay, “But I felt I couldn’t charge someone for saving lives. It’s been my privilege to work with him actually.”

Further reading

Compassion fatigue in the caring professions

6 self-care tips for lockdown 3.0

Coronavirus and lockdown: a psychoanalytic perspective