Ivan helps frontline workers cope with the pandemic

“As human beings we find comfort in stability; knowing what is happening and what will happen in the future allows us to keep our senses at rest, our heart pacing regularly, and our breathing normal” shared Ivan, psychologist for Solettere Onlus. “In a stable situation, even a disturbing event within limits is a part of the process.” “Despite our need to be in control and the measures we take to mitigate exceptional events,” Ivan added, “at times circumstances can reach levels that are beyond our imagination.”

One such exception is the Covid-19 pandemic which wreaked havoc on health infrastructures and severely tested the resilience of frontline workers. As the virus spread, hospitals faced an overflow of patients and in some cases were unable to meet the demand for care. This unprecedented emergency forced health personnel at all levels to make not only difficult, but also very distressing decisions.

Under these conditions the word of psychology also had to pivot. Soleterre, one of Fondation d’Harcourt’s newest partners, shifted to on-line therapy and also made the critical decision to conduct interventions in-person. Through this project, Ivan along with his colleagues are working to address the psychological hardships of patients, families, and frontline workers within the COVID departments of the Policlinico San Matteo in Pavia.

Ivan shared with us his experience with Celeste, one of several trainees hired to meet the urgent need for medical personnel. Celeste was only 27 years old and was very new to life working in a hospital when the pandemic hit. The sudden change from a typical hospital work environment to that of an emergency context was not an easy transition to make. She was working long hours, tending to an extreme increase in patients and dealing with the unknowns surrounding the virus itself. Understandably, she was overwhelmed with stress, and was in fact experiencing a dilemma that many medical professionals have come to view as a new reality. But, managing the resulting stress and personal sense of responsibility borne by those in the healthcare field can often be a task too great to face alone.

Thanks to Ivan’s support and dedication, Celeste has overcome her inner conflict. Through frequent one on one in-person meetings, Ivan helped her change her perspective, teaching her how to find the positive in even the most dire of circumstances. She learned how to focus on the care she was able to give and those she saved during the crisis. Celeste knows now that, using the tools available to her, she did everything possible in her control. Above all, she understands that in the complex health system of today and under the exceptional circumstances of the pandemic, she has done her part.

As for Ivan, having worked within the walls of the hospital has given him new perspective as well; “At the end of the day, while we took off our disposable protective gear, I inevitably wondered if I was doing the right thing: in a few minutes I would get in the car to go home: Was I putting my family’s health at risk? The biggest challenge that I experienced was personal rather than professional and it helped me to better understand what the doctors were going through. Having partially experienced what they went through, it was easier for me to help them.”

“Experiencing the suffering of people I work with, as well as the joy of success brought by good luck and hard work, is something that allows me to grow as a human being, and as a psychologist.” – Ivan