This week’s blog was written by Lindsey O’Brennan, PhD, a licensed psychologist and owner of Morningstar Wellness.
In March 2020, the majority of Americans were faced with the stressful and uncomfortable task of transitioning work to be entirely remote. No more were the days of enduring the rush hour commute or booking flights for work conferences. Instead we spent our energy buying and learning new online platforms and software. The titles of mom and dad were suddenly synonymous with teacher, coach, and classmate. We carved out space for a home office and, if possible, a sense of privacy from family members (our new coworkers). The after work happy hours were replaced with Netflix binging (thank you “Tiger King” and “Ozark” for your life lessons!), learning how to make sourdough bread, or taking our dogs for yet another walk to get out of the house.
The initial phase of lockdown was difficult on even the best of days. Yet there was a sense of unity during those early months. I felt closer to my neighbors who now became the only other people I physically saw beside my immediate family. I relished our neighborhood walks and time spent in the backyard as a family. I frequently saw “We’re in this together” and “Kindness matters” signs in the windows of closed-up shops or spray painted along my neighborhood streets. There was a sense of hope that America was going to get through this. There was also an underlying optimism that we would be waving goodbye to COVID by summer.
Well hindsight is 2020 (not sure that saying holds up anymore). Despite our desires for a quick vaccine, COVID remained ever steady in our world through the summer and fall months. However, noticeable things were changing across the nation in terms of the reopening of businesses and school districts and the growing need for mental health services.
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As a psychologist who works both in private practice and with local school districts, I had to decide how and when I was going to return to work following quarantine. During the initial lockdown, I moved my entire business over to telehealth. Because of this, about 25% of my clients—particularly school-aged clients—decided to take a break from therapy until they could be in-person again. I frequently heard from parents that kids were “simply Zoom-ed out” and didn’t want to stare at a computer screen while yet another adult talked to them. I also noticed I was not bringing my best self into the telehealth therapy sessions. I would catch myself glancing down at the clock more frequently. I hated knowing that my inbox was one click away from the telehealth browser window, thus requiring me to mentally refocus more often.
Part of what I love so much about therapy is creating a sacred space for the client where they can unload their emotional baggage. But with telehealth, we did not share the same physical space, so the distractions of the real world felt ever present for me and my clients. It came to a point where for me, the benefits of telehealth (ease, safety, convenience) were not outweighing the risk of contracting COVID-19. My focus was then to develop a plan for how I could safely offer therapy to clients in person and via telehealth depending on their needs and comfort level.
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I want to point out that my decision to return to my office full-time was a personal one. I’ve talked with a multitude of colleagues—some of whom returned to their office months before me and others who continue to solely provide telehealth services. No matter where you land on the spectrum of remote versus in-person work, here is some food for thought on how to navigate the path to a new normal:
Related article: Read Dr. O’Brennan’s blog on her initial shift to telehealth services.