The First Patient in My Bedroom:

Sariya Idriss
5 min readJun 16, 2020

On Therapeutic Intimacy and Mirroring during the Pandemic

Mark is the first patient I see in my bedroom. I had rearranged the wall behind me to look like my former medical-building office wall — impersonal and unrevealing. Our walk from the waiting room to my office, always filled with pleasantries, used to ease both my patients and me into our assigned seats. With Mark’s abrupt appearance on my screen, we lost our ritualized passage to intimacy and protection. Yet, a new kind of intimacy immediately imposes itself. Both the widespread transition to video-therapy from home and the sharing of a significant moment in time with my patients soften the edges of the patient-therapist dynamic in uncomfortable, exhausting, confusing, and — I will soon realize — novel and enriching ways.

“How are you holding up? Did you find toilet paper?” Mark asks. Now not only was my patient in my bedroom but in my bathroom as well! In fact, he seems far more curious about my state than he is willing to discuss his own. “Did anyone you know get COVID-19? Are you living alone? Are you worried about losing your job?” he continues. In this new world where we all ask of each other questions that apply equally to ourselves, it is clear that his probing into my well-being projects his own anxiety. And, to be honest, weeks into the lockdown, I haven’t yet learned how to navigate the current circumstances and curb my patients’ anxieties that are also my own.

Joined in a pandemic commonality, patient and therapist acknowledge mutuality. How different this is from the inherently asymmetric patient-therapist dyad Psychology historically has used: We, therapists, ask our patients to show us their most vulnerable parts, while we may choose to conceal ourselves with anonymity and professionalism. In theory, this dyad creates time and space for the patient to explore his own issues by projecting them onto the therapist. Occasionally we do decide to reveal parts of ourselves, not to relieve our own anxieties but in the service of the patient.

But now I am anxious. Too close and involved. I want to tell Mark that I really need a break from talking about the virus. The new proximity to my patients’ inner life exhausts me. It produces a level of vulnerability and intimacy that elude choice and classical training. Before the pandemic, when a patient’s difficulties resonated too closely with my own, I could opt to momentarily hide behind the office hours’ pillars of professionalism and anonymity and…

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Sariya Idriss

I’m an early-career, licensed adult and pediatric psychotherapist based in Cambridge, MA. My specialty interests are trauma-informed and cross-cultural therapy