The COVID-19 Arrow: Striking at the Heart of American Life and Culture

The COVID-19 Arrow: Striking at the Heart of American Life and Culture

American Openness to Addressing Pain and Trauma

Fortunately, in the American culture. residents are open increasingly to seeking psychotherapy (at a personal level) and asking for organizational consultative assistance (at an organizational level). Psychotherapy is a mode of breaking down the personal silos. Over many years, Americans have gradually come (in most instances) to view psychotherapy as a good thing, rather than being a sign of weakness. Mental illness and distress were no longer assigned, as it was for many centuries in Western societies to some evil forces (that were to be condemned and eradicated) (Bergquist, 2020a). Nor was it a sign of some form of social deviancy that was to be isolated (in asylums) (Bergquist, 2020c). While there are major flaws in defining mental distress as a matter of ill-health (Bergquist, 2020d), it does allow for openness to requesting and receiving assistance.

Furthermore, American psychologist hold an advantage over those providing psychological services in many other societies—given the framing of health (even mental “health”) as a secular matter rather than as a sacred matter (confronting evil forces) or moral matter (isolating the deviance). American psychologists might even hold an advantage over those providing psychological services in Asian societies who often frame distress and trauma as a spiritual/philosophical issue (the blocked of energy systems and distorted view of reality) (Bergquist, 2020b: Lim and Warrier, 2020). Accompanying this openness to psychological assistance and the secularization of psychological services is a general increased acceptance of psychological services as being of positive assistance, rather than being some kind of evil force (“as a ‘shrink’ you can see into my head or even my soul”) or as some kind of foolish enterprise meant only for the wealthy and idle people with time to waste (Schneider, 1987).

Both individual therapy and group therapy can be of great benefit. At the organizational level, we find an increasing openness to retreats (even if they are virtual) and to various team building initiatives that help to break down silos (at least at a team or divisional level). Innovative methods are being used to facilitate these psychotherapeutic and consultative processes. Apparently, people can be helped even over Zoom. We can lend a hand to one another—even though this is a digital hand. High tech can be a wonderful (if necessary) helpmate to high touch.

Specifically, regarding COVID-19, we are often talking about the processing of pain and trauma. Individual and collective fears and diffuse anxiety were abundantly present during an era of COVID and there was rarely a traditional container (such as the therapy office or a retreat site in the mountains) to contain the anxiety or sustain the metabolizing process needed to reduce and productive engage the anxiety (Bergquist, 2020f). Yet, the anxiety was contained with the use of new technologies and the new use of old technologies. American inventiveness does sometime win the day.  Christakis (2020, p. 322 describes this as a process of coping (much as Richard Lazarus did many years ago in his studies of stress). Whether in person or via Zoom, we can move (as Kubler-Ross suggests) from denial (living in our silo) to anger. We are angry about being forced to look outside our silo or finding that the virus has entered our silos—we couldn’t place a lid on our silo. From here we move to bargaining and depression. It is here where psychotherapy can be of greatest value—ending with acceptance of the virus’ reality coupled with our ability to do something about the virus (finding an internal locus of control).


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William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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