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Community & Connections in a Virtual World

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University of Denver

An Interview with Rohini Gupta, Clinical Assistant Professor & Director, Trauma & Disaster Recovery Clinic

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How has your work changed, adapted, and shifted in this virtual world, and what ways are you and your department trying to build community, connections, and a deeper sense of belonging virtually?

Throughout these past weeks, I have been inspired by how our team and the DU community have come together. We have worked to help our community feel connected, supported, and to provide a sense of security in the learning and clinical environment. This involves using technology to connect, to check-in, and to provide spaces to discuss both academics as well as how people are doing and the impact they have felt as a result of COVID-19.

As I have transitioned into this virtual world, my work has shifted in that everything is now online - teaching, supervising, and clinical work. This has involved learning new technology platforms quickly and then sharing knowledge with others. I have spent time thinking and learning about how to engage students using an online platform through teaching that creates a collaborative and brave learning environment. I know others across campus are going through this same process. I have seen peoples’ ability to adapt quickly and respond. Faculty, staff, students and community organizations are being creative to continue to support education. People are adapting and shifting. Judith Fox, director, International Disaster Psychology at GSPP, has always stressed the importance to me of learning how to work amid challenges. This is what we’re all doing right now, while also strengthening our collective resilience.

In my clinical work, I am working on how to develop strong therapeutic alliances through technology and how to maintain that through the treatment process. This has involved approaching things with a beginner mindset in many ways and learning from others. I have also learned that I need to build in transitional spaces into my workday. This may involve stepping outside to take a deep breath, taking some time to make a cup of tea, or giving my children a big hug and checking in on what they are up to.

What are some of the biggest successes and challenges you’ve seen as the world has shifted to a virtual experience?

The Trauma & Disaster Recovery clinic at GSPP continues to provide psychotherapy and support to non-profit and community organizations to mitigate current stressors, particularly those on the front lines, holding the distress of this time. We have been offering webinars and consultation groups to help people build connection with one another and training students to provide these services in the midst of the pandemic.

However, we cannot ignore that these challenging times come with a felt sense of loss, at many different levels. Something I experience in all of my roles as an educator, supervisor, and clinician is the moment of presence – such an important aspect of meeting in person - when your body registers the other and the experiences of those with you and around you. Walking into a room and saying hello to someone is incredibly different than clicking a button to start a zoom meeting. Personal connections come with the feeling and experience of being with others that can help organize meaning, and intuitively, you know what is possible. For example, when you enter a room and you receive a warm smile or a hug, you know you are welcomed or feel a sense of physical security. These in-person moments are ones that I miss and mourn. I especially miss the informal moments in the transitions between things, where I see students and we greet each other with a hello, or share something funny that happened, or simply nod and smile. I feel the loss of being physically present together. I miss the transitional spaces between meetings, between teaching, and between work and home. I see now how much the moments, moving through different spaces, helps me shift my focus, gets me moving, and helps me connect to myself and to others. Those moments remind me that we are all part of this community.

If you could say one thing to the DU Community right now, what would you say?

During this time, there was really no transition phase or choice—we all came together and did what was needed. I see our move to online practices as having very little to do with personal or professional preferences about distance learning and training, but rather, about caring for ourselves during this challenging and distressing time and responding to what is needed. I know we will continue to lift each other up and support one another during this time. Things will not always be easy, but I would say, hold on to relationships, focus on connection with creativity, and care for one another. We are all in this together.