Working in a private practice setting is inherently isolating. This experience has only heightened with COVID-19—forcing most clinicians to shift their practices online. Just like many of our clients who are being impacted by the loneliness resulting from social distancing, clinicians may similarly find themselves struggling.
While necessary, research suggests that there are negative psychological outcomes associated with social distancing including feelings of boredom, depression, anxiety, and frustration. Fortunately, research also points to ways of mitigating the impact of these types of negative psychological outcomes such as limiting media consumption, creating and following a daily routine, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle (i.e., getting adequate sleep, eating well, abstaining from or limiting substances, exercising, and perhaps meditating). Arguably, the most important thing you can do for self-care while practicing social distancing is finding ways of staying connected to others. And while this may not be safe to do in-person, connecting virtually can help. Thankfully, there are many options with the availability of technology like Facetime and Zoom, which can be used to host a virtual family game night, happy hour with friends, or coffee dates. Additionally, applications such as House Party, which can be used to play games with friends, and platforms such as Netflix Party and Watch Party, which allow for coordinated, remote movie nights, can provide a sense of connection virtually.
Sometimes, clinicians have difficulty practicing self-care due to their focus on helping other people. However, practicing self-care is an important part of the work we do. In practicing self-care, we are not only taking care of ourselves, but, by extension, our clients as well. Practicing self-care helps protect us from things like burnout and makes us more effective clinicians. Being a therapist can be mentally and emotionally demanding work under “normal” circumstances and these demands have only increased since COVID-19. Additionally, many mental health professionals go into the field as a result of having personally experienced mental health issues, making therapists themselves a vulnerable population. For these reasons, practicing self-care has become all the more important since the onset of COVID-19. It should go without saying, but if you notice your own mental health declining, please do what is needed to take care of yourself including seeking professional support. Therapists have therapists too!
Staying connected professionally is also an important part of self-care for clinicians. Pre-COVID-19, you may have routinely sought advice from colleagues in your office or attended a consultation group in addition to going to conferences, trainings, and networking events. These sources of support may not be as readily available during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thankfully, just as quickly as the field shifted to providing services to clients via telehealth or videoconferencing, many provider communities transitioned online as well. For example, this year’s American Psychological Association (APA) conference was held online in addition to many other conferences and trainings. While it is not the same as the in-person experience, holding professional events online makes attendance increasingly accessible without having to factor in the costs, both in terms of time and money, they typically require.
There are other provider communities that are available online, such as Heard. If you haven’t heard of Heard (I had to say it), a digital, evidence-based therapist community offering a clinical referral network, peer consultation groups, and business training resources. Seeking to help therapists start and/or grow their practice, Heard offers 1:1 business consults, an online business school, and online trainings, such as a recent one on addressing racial trauma with Tanisha Thelemaque, Ph.D. They have also held happy hours and coordinated virtual meet-and-greets for professionals to connect socially. If you are not already a member, please consider joining. It is a highly valuable resource, particularly during this time.
There are additional ways of staying connected to provider communities including joining national organizations like the APA as well as state and local psychological associations such as the California Psychological Association and the Los Angeles County Psychological Association. You may also be interested in joining a provider community specific to your interests; for example, if you are interested in acceptance and commitment therapy, you may consider joining the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS). Since COVID-19 began, the Southern California chapter of ACBS has started hosting monthly online consultation groups and social/networking events. There are also options outside of professional organizations, such as the monthly affinity group, Refuge for Mental Health and Healthcare Providers, held by Lisa Kring, LCSW, Carolina Huete-Lehman, LMFT, and James Rosser, LCSW at InsightLA, which transitioned all of their offerings online due to COVID-19. Lastly, you could also do more informal outreach by scheduling virtual self-care check-ins with a small group of colleagues.
It is hard to say how COVID-19 will shift the field, but it seems like a safe assumption that not only will providing telehealth services become more mainstream, provider communities, professional conferences, trainings, consultation groups, and networking events may also continue online in some capacity beyond the need for social distancing due to the increased accessibility and convenience. Why not take advantage of these offerings now, when they are needed, not only as a part of your self-care, but to cultivate your professional community?
Carissa Gustafson, Psy.D., is an evidence-based licensed psychologist in Los Angeles. Her clinical specialties include anxiety, depression and stress. In addition to seeing clients, Dr. Gustafson is an adjunct professor at Pepperdine and board member of the Southern California Chapter of the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS).