So far, the month of March in 2020 has offered a curious intersection of sociocultural stirrings. On the prominent end, the world at large is swept up in navigating a pandemic. One response to COVID-19, according to Jones (2020) drawing from the work of Charles Rosenburg on outbreak archetypes, is that disease outbreaks serve to provide information about the foundational structures that drive the societies they strike. In this framework, a pandemic serves as a truth-telling device that reveals what a society truly values.
In the spirit of unpacking societal values and as it is still Women’s History Month for all of March, let us remember #eachforequal, the theme of International Women’s Day 2020. The theme centers on the tenant of collective individualism, which upholds that each individual is part of a whole, and each individual’s unique participation in that whole has impact. Although the theme of collective individualism is impactful in society all the time, people’s interactions with this theme are particularly resonant at this time of collective crisis around COVID-19, in which consequences are poignant across the barriers of race, age, gender, class, ability, etc.
In exploration of the theme of collective individualism and in light of the climate around COVID-19, TPN.Health has consulted member Corine Brown, DSW, LCSW-BACS on her experience as a practitioner working in emergency human services. As Director of Wellness Services at Covenant House, an emergency services organization, in New Orleans, LA, Corine has taken the organization in a direction that supports integrated collective mental health for the community, a direction oriented in addressing the challenges of a system where racism is inherent.
“What strikes me right now is how critical it is if practitioners do not have a practice of their own, if they have not done their own healing. How critical it has shown to be that we can actually hold space for this high level of collective anxiety.” -Corine Brown, DSW, LCSW-BACS
In the past year, Corine has completed her Doctorate of Social Work on barriers and solutions to institutional racism within the behavioral health field, focusing on consulting white-identifying people in positions of leadership about identifying those barriers and their needs in order to feel empowered to begin making changes. Informed from this research and years of experience working in emergency services at Covenant House New Orleans, Corine sees the current climate as a calling for practitioners to truly examine how they are in relationship with people, and that means first developing a personal practice of caring for and checking in with themselves.
“We say we value dignity and worth of a person. We say we value the importance of human relationships–integrity and competence. It is a really good idea for us to home in on what that actually means right now.” -Corine Brown, DSW, LCSW-BACS
Central to Corine’s work at Covenant House is cultivating empowerment. This means doing the work to hold space personally and collectively for people’s capabilities given their own power and limitations. Now, more than ever, it is a time to focus on defining and tapping into sources for that empowerment individually and in the context of one’s relationships. How can practitioners be empowered to do the inner work that will enable them to show up in ways that actually benefit and serve the people with whom they are working, not in theory but in reality? What does it mean to prioritize relationships with people? What does it mean to have integrity and competence? What does it mean to value the inherent dignity and worth of a person? There has never been a better time to intentionally spend time and energy exploring these questions.
Corine says of her work community, “I can’t tell you how relieved I am to be a part of Covenant House. Because we are so used to doing so much with so little, all we know is how to band together and figure it out.” As a person’s ability to support their community is inextricably linked to how they are supporting themselves, Corine is confident and full of hope that her community can actually handle times of collective upheaval, such as this, so long as people are doing the deep work of learning how to support themselves and one another.
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Jones, D. S. (2020). History in a Crisis — Lessons for Covid-19. New England Journal of Medicine. doi: 10.1056/nejmp2004361
Featured image credit: https://columbusfreepress.com/article/authentic-relating-games