Therapist in Ukraine: “I don’t have a weapon; all I have is information.”

Inna Pochtaruk smiles as she explains, “Whenever the blackouts strike, I instantly start cussing.”

The individual, who is 45 years old, believes that expressing oneself in this manner is a healthy response since “rage equals energy for action” and may assist in the protection of personal boundaries.

During the conflict with Russia, she works as a therapist in Ukraine, where she helps patients who are suffering from sadness, guilt, rage, fear, loneliness, and feelings of impotence. However, this does not imply that she is immune to these emotions herself.

Therefore, she and perhaps a dozen other people get together every two weeks through Zoom, provided that they have access to reliable Wi-Fi connections, in order to provide mutual support to one another and to get free professional supervision from two therapists stationed in London. This is all facilitated by a Ukrainian translator named Max.

“The continuous, full-scale danger of death has been the most difficult thing,” says Svetlana Koval, 47, who is also a therapist. “This has been the most difficult thing.”

Because of the war, she had no choice but to leave her birthplace behind and go to the city of Odesa, leaving her elderly mother behind. Despite the fact that her mother has a support network and that Svetlana talks to her often, she is unable to shake the idea that there is no hope for her situation.

Svetlana finds that her interests, counseling, and other coping techniques help her make it through the difficult times.

She responds with a grin, “I’ve been taking ballroom dance lessons for the last two years.” Unfortunately, though, there aren’t many males living in such a tiny hamlet. A significant number of people have been forced into military service.

According to the therapists, amid difficult circumstances, one should not discount the significance of even the most minor pleasures. Just like in any other part of the globe, some of their preferred activities to take care of themselves include doing yoga, tending to their gardens, and drinking tea.

During the conflict, however, expressing happiness has been deemed taboo, according to what they have told them since many Ukrainians believe that they should be the ones to suffer in order to show sympathy with other people.

Put in the position of having to choose a side

According to Larysa, a psychology student in her 20s whose name we have altered, “I stopped all of my connections with any Russians because I’m upset and I’m not ready to continue them.”

Since the beginning of the invasion, there has been a widespread rise in anti-Russian sentiment, which has resulted in the breakdown of many partnerships. It is known as “splitting” or “black-and-white thinking” in psychology, and the therapists agree that it has impacted them as well.

“It’s almost as if I can see a rift in the center of the two seats. “And I have no choice but to choose a side in order to prevent my family from falling apart,” Svetlana explains. “There were certain Russian coworkers that I had to part ways with; I can’t work with them because I perceive a flaw in their conduct in not being able to differentiate between good and evil,” you may remark.

Many others have expressed the same sentiment. Another member of the group addresses the speaker, asking, “How can you deal with victims if you legitimise violence?”

Some of the therapists gently advise that this resentment might be better served if aimed not toward Russian colleagues but rather at President Vladimir Putin and his invading army.

Others, however, argue that people’s tendency to see the world in black and white was an adaptation that helped them live during times of extreme peril.

According to Larysa, “the amygdala section of the brain is like a fire alarm;” it is connected to anxiety; it governs “freeze,” “run,” and “fight” behaviors; and it communicates about life and death circumstances.

It would seem that working as a therapist at a time of war has its own unique set of challenges and dilemmas.

How can one make peace with the idea that the purpose of therapy is to break down people’s shields so that they are able to experience things and deal with them when they are in a frightening and traumatic situation where their defenses are often the only thing that keeps them alive?

The therapists warn the that shelling, explosions, and blackouts occasionally disturb their internet meetings with vulnerable clients. However, they are resolute in their commitment to continue providing a secure environment in which customers may confront challenging emotions and work through them.

“We shall be victorious. Svetlana adds, “We simply need time, and I’m not sure how long,” adding, “I’ve got no weapon except information.”

Ballroom dancing is a kind of exercise that Svetlana Koval does with a partner, the identity of whom has been concealed by blurring his face.

According to Svetlana Koval, activities such as ballroom dancing help her deal with stress. 1px translucent line

The conflict will eventually come to an end. The psychological damage, on the other hand, might affect future generations.

The therapists have revealed to that they experience some of the same traumatic events as their patients, despite the fact that they make an effort to avoid projecting their own experiences onto their patients.

One of the members of the group has shared that she has unfortunately misplaced her kid. Her loss is very fresh, and it is tough for her to discuss it, but through it all, she has learned that, as a therapist, “you can’t take someone farther than you’ve gone yourself.” This is something that she finds comfort in. Suffering is necessary to develop empathy.

“The job I do invigorates me.”

These therapists, who all served patients for free during the time that the war deprived them of their careers, are now concerned about money as another source of stress.

Inna is overjoyed to have secured a well-paying position as a full-time therapist. In point of fact, due to the fact that her new agenda for crisis services and juvenile assistance is so jam-packed, she has announced that she will no longer be attending these biweekly therapist sessions.

Because I like what I do so much, going to work does not tire me out; on the contrary, it gives me energy. Yesterday, I conducted a group, and all the way up until 11 o’clock at night, people were sending me text messages to express their gratitude for the opportunity.

Larysa supports herself as a picture editor for worldwide publications and companies. Most recently, she has established a private psychotherapy practice that provides most of its services at no cost in order to assist those who are in the greatest need.

“My husband joked that it cost us a tidy fortune to operate my therapy company and pay for all the monitoring while I was receiving nothing in return,” she recalls. “But happily we had some savings from before the war, and my husband’s stably employed.”

The therapists are aware of the significance of their job and are looking for more paid opportunities so that they may help a more significant number of civilians and troops who are in need of their services while also ensuring their own financial security and avoiding mental exhaustion.

“This is what differentiates us from the folks who are assaulting us,” they said. “Providing a safe haven for those in need is an act of kindness,” adds Larysa.

“And when I am able to achieve it, I experience being human.”

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