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Psychologists and psychotherapists about their work during the war

During the war, many Ukrainians started visiting psychologists or psychotherapists. War is an abnormal circumstance for everyday life, so people need to express, comprehend, and work through this painful and distressing experience. However, psychologists and psychotherapists also live in wartime, so they simultaneously have to help others and themselves to cope with difficult events.

First and foremost, psychologists are also people caught up in the war, like everybody else

War is just as traumatic for psychologists. It affects everything around us, and we can do nothing about it. We have to work against the war backdrop, against the background of anxiety, against the background of violence on a massive scale. The number of clients you can see daily is getting smaller because you have to work with strong feelings and emotions. There are many more calls: people need much more psychological support now.

Some therapists in peacetime did not choose to work with trauma, crises, or violence. Now, they are forced to work and study simultaneously, as there is a shortage of professionals, and the number of inquiries about violence is only increasing. Because of this, psychologists are dealing with burnout. I myself work through my experience with a psychologist 7 hours a week so that I can continue working.

Anna Halan, a psychologist at the Women and War Foundation and the Mentoly platform

To avoid burning myself out, I have my own therapy and supervision, and I try to pay more attention to how I feel and how my body feels because you can burn out and then take a long time to pick yourself up.

Zlata Hnatiuk, psychotherapist

From the beginning of the war, I continued to work because I realized how crucial psychological support is now. The work itself changed to crisis and acute stress care. For almost half a year, I provided only such support, and the focus of therapy shifted to adaptation to the war. A little later, I worked with families of internally displaced people from temporarily occupied territories and conducted art therapy for children, and it was sometimes very challenging for me. I felt so much pain and horror! I would come home and cry for two or three hours. During this period, I, myself, had to learn how to adapt to the new living circumstances. I went to personal therapy and had to find new meanings and internal support for myself. And now, I help my clients find theirs.

Olena Tartan, art therapist, psychologist at a children's rehabilitation center

The primary needs of clients

The topics that people address are tough. The main one is the topic of acute grief, the loss of loved ones. It is painful, and there are many such cases. It is not only about the loss of relatives but also of friends, neighbors, or classmates. Anxiety and anxiety disorders are in second place among the issues, which have increased because people in Ukraine live under constant threat to their lives. In addition, the war can activate a personal trauma they have not worked through before. For some, it is a trauma of toxic shame; for others, it is a traumatic first relationship.

Anna Halan, a psychologist at the Women and War Foundation and the Mentoly platform

Zlata Hnatiuk, psychotherapist
The central theme that many people have to work with now is grief. For example, last week, I had five clients, and with four of them, I worked on the loss of a soldier. The next topic is more existential and very obvious — about justice, why all this is happening, what a person wants to do in general, and what they see as the meaning of their life. It is challenging to work with these issues because clients often come with severe depression, and you have to work with both the above issues and depression.
Before that, I had never had experience working with witness trauma — when we witness something very terrible, such as violence or loss, and people have no knowledge of how to survive it, so they fall into different states that were unknown and incomprehensible before.

On working with the military

Mykola Demkiv, psychiatrist, psychologist, CBT consultant
In addition to working with civilians, the military also turns to therapists. For example, we worked on the military's fear of being forgotten — these soldiers have been at the front for a year and are very tired. They need to know somebody waits for them, remembers, and appreciates them. Consequently, we need to work with their relatives and friends on how they should communicate with those at the front.
There are cases when soldiers feel abandoned and betrayed because of improper communication or lack of understanding from their families and friends. Some of the military feel afraid that the war will last for a very long time. In this case, we work with this fear, realizing we cannot affect the main issue.

Problems not related to the war

It is worth noting that psychologists and psychotherapists do not work exclusively with the topic of war now. After the first shock of the full-scale war has passed, clients keep coming to us with the same problems they had before: their relationships, self-esteem, relationships with parents, and inability to quit or divorce. People return to the processes they had before. But, of course, the war affects all aspects of life; in particular, loneliness has become a more prominent issue because many people are now cut off from their families and their usual environment.

Zlata Hnatiuk, psychotherapist

People have been asking me about the issue of disassociation more often: either from people abroad or from people inside the country who have a different worldview. A frequent reason for this inquiry is the complexity of decision-making because decisions in such circumstances require much more effort and consideration. With the topic of effort comes the topic of fatigue. There is almost no energy left for what used to be easy and effortless. Therefore, the issue of replenishing resources becomes more pressing.

This is often followed by the painful topic of loss and grieving. This can be not only the loss of loved ones or relatives from the war but also the loss of a sense of security, an image of past life that will never be the same, relationships with friends or family due to forced migration, loss of property and a sense of home.

Dasha Trofimova, Ph.D. in Psychology, Associate Professor of the Department of Social Psychology at the Kyiv Institute of Contemporary Psychology and Psychotherapy, counseling psychologist

Life wins the day

Sometimes people are embarrassed to grieve, especially if the loss is "not so severe" compared to others. But any loss must be given its own time and space to be recognized because this is the only way to move past it and live a full life. In addition to these issues, people are still concerned about relationships, which makes me happy. Despite the war, people still meet, fall in love, break up, and get back together. Isn't this proof that life always wins? Even if there are still many wounds.

Dasha Trofimova, PhD in Psychology, Associate Professor of the Department of Social Psychology at the Kyiv Institute of Contemporary Psychology and Psychotherapy, counseling psychologist

In times of war and various crises, monitoring your own state of mind and seeking professional help is important. Both civilian and military life have many problems, including grief, loss of loved ones or home, and a lack of understanding of how to move on. Psychologists and psychotherapists continue to provide support, counseling, and clinical care despite the difficult times. Sometimes their work is not fully discussed, but thanks to them, people have a much better chance of being healthy and finding lost meanings to continue living a full life.

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