In Episode #8 of Everyday Heroes: A COVID-19 Podcast, we meet Lana Isaacson. She is a couples and family therapist who encourages her clients to be "relationship heroes".
EVERYDAY HEROES: A COVID-19 Podcast. Featuring Angela Rothermel and Lana Isaacson. Produced by Michael T. Starks. Editing Services by Brian Torres, Irlend Productions Independent, LLC. All Images and Footage used with Permission & Licensing, Provided by Adobe Stock and Pixabay.com. "Say a Prayer for the Living" Music, Lyrics & Performed by Michael T. Starks. Special Thanks to Karilyn T. Starks. Ionogen Media, LLC Copyright 2020. All Rights Reserved.
“Memories heal the living. We pray for the living.”
Angela: Like Episode Seven, this episode was recorded on July 1st, 2020. At this time, several European countries relaxed their travel restrictions, but not for Americans, due to the fact that the average number of cases per day in the United States was at its highest level so far. As of July 1st, 2020, the total number of deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States was almost 131,000. This is our eighth episode of Everyday Heroes, a conversation with Lana Isaacson, a couple’s and family therapist who encourages her clients to be relationship heroes.
Angela: I'm here with Lana Isaacson. How are you doing today?
Lana: I’m doing well. Thanks, Angela.
Angela: Tell me a little bit about what you do and what your life was like before the pandemic.
Lana: I am a couple’s and family therapist in the Denver Metro area. And my life before the pandemic? I was a working mom. I still am. And I would say that the biggest difference was I was meeting with my clients in person. As most people, I was out in the world and meeting with colleagues, clients, and friends, family, and just living, you know, a freer, more open life. And I would say, being a mom and being a wife and having a pretty full, wonderful life. But really busy. And so there are definitely some wonderful shifts that have happened since COVID that were unexpected.
Angela: Some unexpected blessings?
Angela: A little time to pause?
Angela: What has been difficult for you during this time? Have you been social distancing?
Lana: Absolutely. I've been social distancing and because my son was just finishing up his year in second grade, I needed to be home with him and helping him get through homeschooling. And I also was doing teletherapy at home. So I was very lucky that I was able to make a shift in my career, although it was a challenging one. And not one that I thought that I was going to look forward to making, but it was something that I needed to do for my family’s safety. And obviously, it was something that we all were required to do. And yeah, so I was just juggling the… being a mom and working. And I would say the challenging parts were at home. I… I think I had developed a pretty good balance before COVID, and then being at home, I felt like I needed to be in supermom mode, to be a good mom and be there for my son. And I think because my son is a little guy… he's just eight years old. He also naturally expected that I would be available. So I had to set some pretty clear and loving boundaries with him and find an office space in my house that could be private and I could hang a door outside the office, so my clients could have confidentiality… Wear a headset, like you are, for sessions. And there were just a lot of shifts with trying to, you know, adjust to this new normal, and be there for everyone, including myself. Because as a therapist, I think that sometimes we can forget that we need to take care of ourselves, just as much as everyone else, if we're going to be of service to our clients.
Angela: That’s so true. Do you know anyone who has lost someone close to him or her?
Lana: Fortunately, I do not know anyone, but my heart really breaks and goes out for anyone who has lost a loved one. It's incredibly devastating. And I think we're all feeling it, even if we didn't know that person, just to hear the stories in the news or see the numbers. It's… it's just so heavy. So it's important to honor the lives of those wonderful people who are here, and their families who are grieving, and also to take a break and get out and enjoy some things in life. So we can keep our spirits up at this time.
Angela: How are some ways that you keep your spirits up?
Lana: I guess I've been fortunate that some of my hobbies I've been able to continue. So one is hiking, and being in Colorado, it's just so ideal that, you know, COVID began at a time that… it was beginning of spring, and I was able to get out for these glorious hikes and listen to podcasts and books on my phone. And that was amazing for me. See what else? Maybe not as many dance classes… it's a little hard to dance at home, but just dancing with my son or my husband at home could still be fun. Let's see, what else? I would say, just having more of these special, small moments with family were really wonderful as well, to keep my spirits up. So those were some of the things. And then, I guess some of the funny YouTube videos that have come out since COVID have just been a way to, I guess, turn a really dark, difficult situation. Just finding the humor in this challenging time has been, I think, a way that a lot of people can cope, and I think we're going to cry or we're going to laugh. And so, that's helped. And the last thing is just continuing to seek gratitude and be appreciative of anything that we have in our lives right now has really helped me.
Angela: That’s a common thread with all the people we've interviewed is the importance of gratitude and noticing the gratitude and just within each other and moving on and moving forward in this unprecedented time. How do you think you've been helping people since this COVID-19 pandemic broke?
Lana: I would say the main way that I've been helping people is through my work, as a therapist, that I have fortunately been able to continue my work, through teletherapy, similar to what we're doing right now. It's been incredibly surprising to myself and my clients that it can be effective.
Lana: Yeah. And I've had clients write beautiful testimonials about how they feel like we're still in the same room. It's just as effective as an in-person session. And some of my clients, one in particular, said she even enjoyed it more than an in-person session, because she could just be in her comfort zone, on her couch, with her dogs on her. She didn't have to fight traffic, worry about getting to my office on time. And another client said that it was really helpful to be in a space after the session, in her home, to bring some of the lessons from therapy that she was able to glean and to… And then she said every time after the session, to be able to just look at that space and remember the words that were said and the experience she had. I've had couples as well, who have said that after the session that they've had these incredible conversations. That has just been really, really encouraging and heartwarming for me, because I think before COVID, I had no interest in doing teletherapy. I knew it was a good idea and that it would make therapy more accessible, but it wasn't something that really called to me. I'm just a very in-person… I love connecting with people and doing experiential work, which is creative. And I wasn't sure how I could do that online, but since COVID, and I've had to switch to teletherapy, I've had more and more couples say that they've been able to really implement what they're learning in therapy, which I think is really the whole… The whole point of therapy is not to have this magical moment in an office and then you go home, and it's so hard to transfer the skills you learned. It's about being in your own space and having this really brave, courageous, vulnerable experience with your partner or your family, and then be able to do it again in that space. And so it's been pretty exciting for me to have this new opportunity, with my clients, that I'm hearing is working. And at the end of the day, it's not about the research as much as in my mind… It is about the research, but even more compelling is when my clients say, “this worked; this was really helpful.”
Angela: What research can you share about people going through traumatic times?
Lana: What I've found in the research and in my experience… and I'm not a trauma expert. I want to say that. I would view myself as trauma-informed, but there are other people who are much more knowledgeable about trauma. But what I know is that, you know, some folks, the way that they need to get through this is survival. And that it, I think it can, you know, in survival, it can bring up or help you really realize your strength and resiliency. And it might not be your time that you're going to be your best self in life, but you might look back and feel really proud of how you survived. And for some folks, they've had to be really flexible and extremely brave and take a job at maybe a grocery store. When, you know, for some people that's a risky place, and other people might feel safe there. But I think that everybody is either in survival, or finding that this is a way that they're able… they're even feeling more like they're thriving. And I think it's finding ways, you know, to put, I don't want to say a positive spin on this, but to find the hidden gifts in this really difficult time.
Lana: So when I think about some ways to survive or thrive… And obviously there are healthy ways, and then there are unhealthy, that I think we all can know about. And so one exercise I have my clients do, and this is, I'll admit, just from the Twelve Steps, at the end of meetings. A lot of people will say the serenity prayer. And I think about the three parts, and the first is “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change”. And just being able to exhale out all the difficult things right now that are out of our control, that we need to let, try to let go of, because we don't have control over them. And then the second part, “and the courage to change the things that we can”. And that those are the parts of our life, which I feel will help us thrive. And the end, for some, just survive, just realizing, “Well, I used to do things this way, but now I can't. And so how else can I earn a living? Or feel safe, or find some joy, or find some peace?” And so, being really open and creative and willing to try new things can really help. And so, that serenity prayer exercise, I think, has really helped me through so many different times in my life.
Lana: And I think also, I've heard from some folks, just having a mantra, it could be anything like “I'm safe”, or I'm trying to think… There's this one. “All is well. Everything is working out for my highest good, and out of this situation…” Maybe it is kind of repetitive, but, “only good will come. I am safe.” And it's a Louise Hay mantra, and it's… I just really encourage clients, “Whatever works for you, that is going to help you get through this time,” I think is really beneficial. And also knowing that some really small things in life can help: just grounding yourself, five minutes of meditation. Obviously getting out of our chairs, which more, you know, most of us are sitting a lot more now, and moving our body is empowering and stress relieving.
Lana: So, one thing I'm doing with my eight-year-old is… we got… we were very lucky to get a trampoline from our neighbors last summer, after they left for college. They gave us their trampoline, and just jumping. And as an adult, it has… that expression jump for joy. Like that works. It really shifts me completely from some of the heavy work that I do during the day. And it's… I love my work. It's super meaningful and rewarding, but it can… I can carry it, unless I do go out and just connect with my childhood self and my son who… he's just… I could be with him for two minutes, and I can connect with that energy. And then the last thing I'll say about trauma... And I think I would hear even more from clients now, that they're experiencing more grief and loss. And I think, again, it's just finding, well, you know… What can we do to fill this void that we've had in our lives? Since, you know, whatever timeframe you want to say, since COVID started. And there is one more part to this that I'll share, that for me as a couple’s therapist that I love sharing, and it's the research on what helps couples 18 months, or I should say, well, it helps couples in general, but there's research after 9/11, where couples were studied 18 months after the tread the tragedy of 9/11, and who were, who was doing well, and who wasn't. And the couples that were thriving were the ones who were able to learn how to do what's called a “hold me tight” conversation. And it's an EFT, emotionally focused therapy. And it's having the courage to be vulnerable and reach out to your partner. As Sue Johnson says, “Reach to your partner.” When, if you're feeling like you're in the dark, if you can reach to your partner and ask them to hold you, or ask them to comfort you or give you a caring word, anything that can just give you that support. Holding their hand can give you such a boost.
Lana: And those couples did really well after that trauma. And I'm feeling like this… It's the same thing right now, that for all of us, it can feel like a really dark time. And if you're not, if somebody is not in a couple, a healthy partnership, or they're not in a relationship, if they can reach out to a friend, and it might not be physically, it might be more virtually, but just to find a way that we can express our more vulnerable emotions and have someone comfort us, and it can be really powerful. So I just think that, you know, I've heard before the best source of resilience in human beings is our ability to reach out in the dark and hold hands with another human being.
Angela: What is your wish for others during this time?
Lana: I think I said this earlier… maybe it's just something that is, it helps me get through difficult things, but to seek gratitude, and I feel like we'll experience more joy, to practice the serenity prayer, whatever that looks like for folks, but to find ways to really be able to, even if it's just temporary, to let go of some of the things that are out of our control right now, and to just really have the courage to change what we can, and be brave and be open and flexible and creative, and be willing to try step into something new, because those are options. And the third thing is… I loved that the name for this is about COVID heroes, even though that wasn't how I saw myself, but I really see my clients as having this opportunity, when they do therapy or work on their own, to become “relationship heroes”.
Lana: And the way I view that is any time that individuals or couples, families, work on their interpersonal skills or their emotional intelligence, I believe that they have this amazing opportunity to not only improve the quality of their own lives and relationships, but also to pass that down to the next generation. Because we're constantly modeling for our kids, or our nieces or nephews, if we, if we're child-free, but it's… The next generation can see that. And then, that's our legacy that they can have.
Angela: Thank you so much. It was so great speaking with you. I can see you're a talented therapist with a beautiful heart. And thank you, thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.
Lana: Awesome. Thank you.