Atul (name changed) is going through a lot of guilt after his uncle passed away 1 month ago due to COVID. Atul also tested positive but recovered. He feels that he should have taken more precautions which may have prevented the loss. He is unable to sleep, getting frequent nightmares about loss and suffering. His other family members agree with his view that more precautions might have saved uncle’s life. The counselor is at loss about how to help because she also thinks that in this case the risk of infection increased due to carelessness.
It is not uncommon for people to feel guilty that they couldn’t do enough to save someone from a disease or any such negative event. It may get compounded if the individual has undergone the same event or condition (e.g., suffered from the same disease) but has survived. There can be many reasons for that; for example, an exaggerated negative appraisal of an act (such as, “Had I done this specific thing, the person could be saved.”) or too much of personal attribution (e.g., “I am responsible for the person’s death.”) at the cost of realistic evaluation of all the possible causes (self, others and situation). In this case, the counsellor should, first of all, understand that this person may be undergoing similar guilt. I would suggest the counsellor to, first of all, assess the individual’s level of distress and whether he requires formal psychiatric help. Also, assisting the individual in a realistic appraisal of the situation may help (e.g., “I might have committed some errors; however, at the time of this pandemic, everyone is vulnerable to be infected by this contagious disease.”).
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