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Being Well in Difficult Times - Sally

25 May 2020 - Dr Jan Orman

It’s always helpful to hear how other people cope.  Over the next few weeks we are dedicating the Being Well blog to a series called Being Well in Difficult Times.  We asked a range of health professionals 3 big questions to see if there was anything we could learn from them 

How are our psychologists coping? Here’s what one of them has to say about life in Australia during CoVID-19. I wonder if it resonates with your own experience.

Sally* is the director of new urban private practice. She is a generalist psychologist & qualified teacher in her mid-forties with two ‘tween girls, and vulnerable (but fit) parents. Her clients include young children, teenagers, university students, school staff, NDIS young people, members of the LBGTI community and clients from Employee Assistance Programs.

What are your biggest concerns about the pandemic?

With a science background, I understand that viruses and pandemics are part of the natural order, and cognitively can rationalise their existence and not worry. However, as a parent, spouse, mother, friend and psychologist, like most people, my concerns centre around the health and safety of those in my care. Oddly enough, in the early days of this pandemic, those in my care grew to include my parents who were initially unconvinced by the science and insisted on continuing their normal active lives.

In terms of my practice, the early days were spent glued to media feeds, Private Practice Facebook group chats and determining which surfaces would need extra cleaning; all while continuing to see clients. “How will I keep myself safe?” “How will I keep my clients safe?” “How will I ensure I don’t become a carrier of the virus and take it home to my family?” “How will my practice survive this interruption to what had been a very positive start to the year?”

How are you managing your anxiety about these things?

As much as I’d like to suggest that I was not anxious at the beginning of this pandemic, upon reflection a few weeks later I can admit that some of my behaviour indicates that I was struggling in a number of areas, all while trying to convince myself and others that I was in control – of a very uncertain situation.

Days were spent reassuring clients that this new Telehealth model would work just fine over the coming days/weeks/months, only to leave my study to attend to children not completing assigned school tasks, and spend all other moments registering with APS webinars so that I could be certain I had the latest understanding of “this week’s” Medicare changes. There were days that I felt like a fraud.

And then I started to believe some of the things I had been saying to my clients, “We are resourceful, we are creative, we are educated, we can get through this.” “These are uncertain times, so keep your slippers on all day if that’s what helps you feel safe.” “It’s times like this that we get to test the measure of who we are as people, so allow yourself to see opportunity once the loss (e.g. job, relationship, freedom) you’ve experienced makes space for something new.” “Dance like no one’s looking, coz no one is!” And so the humour came back – to keep the wine and chocolate company.

Do you think the experience of this little bit of history will make a difference to you or your plans for the future?

It will sound trite, but I am grateful to have been a psychologist during this historic time. Professionally, I was fortunate to be in a position where I could make agile decisions quickly that enabled me to be at home with my family and offer an uninterrupted service to the majority of my clients. Much of the work has been challenging in this online format, and there have been innumerable technical difficulties, but I know that I have delivered solid psychological intervention and support during a very uncertain time, and I’m proud of my efforts.

My plans for the future fall into two categories: short- and long-term, as we have learnt that while our instincts to plan ahead offer certainty and can reduce anxiety, it is our short-game which will provide small moments of joy that will sustain us over the coming weeks and months.

My short-term plans are to increase my skill set in the digital realm to ensure maximum benefit during my Telehealth sessions, something in the order of Tom Cruise in Minority Report. While my long-term plans are to hopefully be back in my rooms, but still utilising the Telehealth platform to ensure all clients in need can access the help irrespective of their situation.

Australia, unlike other countries that have experienced unfathomable death, despair and trauma, to-date has not lived through the same travesty. Nevertheless, there has been serious interruption to millions of lives through isolation, job-loss and at-home learning. The mental health toll has and will be enormous, so the role that psychologists, and other allied health professionals play, will be vital to the rebuilding of our communities.

So, it is appropriate that we remind ourselves: we are resourceful, we are creative, we are educated, and we can help our communities to get through this.

*Not her real name


Dr Jan Orman
Dr Jan Orman

Jan is Sydney GP, private psychological medicine practitioner in Sydney’s inner west and a GP educator for Black Dog Institute.

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