The COVID-19 emergency: trauma or resource?

The COVID-19 emergency: trauma or resource?

The consequences of the health emergency seem to have affected the adult population more deeply, which has found itself facing new major challenges. However, Covid-19 has not only produced evident, as well as obvious, traumatic effects, the pandemic has also made it possible to mobilize new resources.


During the health emergency caused by COVID-19, the perception of the danger to the physical safety of oneself and loved ones has changed. If today we live in a historical era in which attention to childhood has significantly increased compared to the past, if only because children are often the glue in increasingly fragile families, in recent months the concern has definitely shifted towards children. adults, as they are more exposed than children to the direct effects of the pandemic on physical health (Whyte, 2020).

What could have been the influence of such a change of perspective?

It is possible to believe that the pandemic has had a “traumatic” effect: while some families have suffered painful losses, many have nevertheless faced the situation with concern. Whether parents have spoken to their children explicitly about the pandemic, sometimes giving rise to phenomena of “infodemic”, or that they have chosen not to involve them too much, in order to avoid them a “trauma”, it is certain that the children have grasped, through their eyes, the emotions they were feeling. Some research shows that the way in which children and pre-adolescents cope with trauma is not so much influenced by how directly they have been exposed to a stressful event, but by the reactions of their reference adults (Green BL, Karol M, Grace MC et al, 1991; McFarlane AC, 1987).

The lockdown, of course, also had indirect effects: while there is no doubt that children and adolescents have suffered from the lack of the social dimension of the school, it is possible to believe that parents who have lost their jobs, or have had difficulties that they have brought with them uncertainty for the future, they have had a considerable load from an emotional point of view.

Those who adopt a systemic-relational perspective do not limit themselves to considering the obvious and obvious traumatic effects of the pandemic, but also look with interest at the resources that are mobilized as a result of such an extraordinary situation.

Let us consider a first “structural” aspect (Minuchin, 1974): the changes in the daily routine, which occurred during the so-called phase 1, led to the drastic reduction of extra-family activities and to an evident increase in interactions between members who belong to the same cohabiting nucleus. It can therefore be said that the pandemic was a natural opportunity to make the boundaries between the extra-family and the intra-family more solid.

In psychotherapeutic practice, for example, it is not uncommon to come across situations in which the boundaries between the nuclear family and one or both families of origin are widespread: there are families of origin that intervene on the choices at many levels, both on the educational level of the children, who, in more serious cases, on substantial family life decisions. In similar situations, the lockdown may have had the structural effect of reducing the level of intrusiveness and a greater definition of borders, with the further advantage of not connoting the lack of interaction in an expulsive way, or as a movement to protect children from intrusiveness of grandparents, but rather to protect the grandparents themselves from the possibility of being infected.

A second effect of the lockdown was the greater interactions between family members belonging to the same nucleus: if normally the time that parents and children share tends to be small, the emergency offered the possibility to spend, at least from a physical point of view, more time together, allowing us to rediscover the sometimes tiring emotional exchange that only daily interaction can guarantee.

The lockdown was also an opportunity to enhance the ties with the neighborhood: if in many large cities relations are often so scarce as to suggest forms of collective isolation, the pandemic has sometimes made it possible to rediscover the importance of relationships of housing proximity, often a fundamental resource for those who are socially isolated. Paradoxically, for some particularly lonely families, sometimes with even small children, having neighbors more available than usual was an opportunity to forge greater ties.

Finally, we come to school, a much debated topic in recent months: if distance learning, involving the need to have technological tools in order to be supported, in some cases has aggravated school dropout phenomena, it was the occasion for the school of renew itself, to overcome some bureaucratic rigidities, as well as the opportunity to activate network resources between teachers and services. The pupils, for their part, have shown, in many cases, to be understanding towards the difficulties that the teachers were facing.

Personally, I had the opportunity to conduct some projects at the lower secondary school: if it is evident that, compared to interaction in presence, the emotional exchange at a distance is more difficult, interacting with the children through the video allowed to get to know them from a different perspective. The possibility, offered by the videoconferencing platforms, to let the participants speak one at a time without being interrupted, an aspect not always possible in presence, has allowed to give more space to those who usually speak little in class, allowing not only the conductor, but also to the companions, to know better the resources of each one. An experience therefore that, if read carefully, allows you to expand the skills that are enhanced during school activity

My activity as a school psychologist, in recent months, has also included counseling teachers and families. The case of Dario, which I began to follow before the quarantine, is particularly emblematic to highlight the resources that emerged during this period.

The case of Dario, an 11-year-old boy who attends the first class of lower secondary school, is presented to me in December 2019: he is a very closed boy from a relational point of view, especially with his classmates, and with some didactic difficulties, which it compensates for thanks to a scrupulous study. The teacher of the kindergarten had already reported the problem: following an evaluation at the child neuropsychiatry, the need for educational support had emerged, which was however refused by the primary teachers, who had declared that they did not need it. So Dario arrives at secondary school.

The context in which Dario lives does not seem to help his relational openness: he is an only child; the parents have considerable economic difficulties as the mother is unemployed and the father works precariously as a farm worker: the boy does not carry out any paid extracurricular play-recreational activities; the family unit lives in a courtyard far from the inhabited center and has poor relations with the neighborhood; the family of paternal origin is totally absent; Dario and his mother, without the father, go, often for the entire weekend, to the maternal family, made up of elderly parents who live together with the nucleus composed of the patient’s aunt, husband and their only child, a child of 8 years old with severe physical and intellectual disability.

The lockdown situation had, in Dario’s case, some positive aspects: the family’s economic situation, although negative, has not worsened; the fact of living in a court allowed Dario to play with some peers, who, during their free time, are normally engaged in extracurricular activities; Over the weekend, Dario had the opportunity to spend more time with his father, who involved him in some small manual jobs, which does not happen when he goes to a family of maternal origin, which presents a situation that is not very stimulating for him.

The positive aspects that occurred during the pandemic experienced by Dario and his family, allowed the boy to be more active and available during the psychological interviews, improving his compliance.

COVID-19, and everything that followed, was an extraordinary experience, which we will not forget and which, like all uncommon experiences, allowed us to live life and relationships in a new way: we are not therefore it is only a trauma, which may or may not be overcome depending on whether one has more or less resilience, but of a process of knowledge of oneself, of others and of the relationship between us and others that will have much more value the more will not be forgotten.