Field Notes: COVID-19 and the Provision of Psychological Services

Field Notes: COVID-19 and the Provision of Psychological Services

It also should be noted that important cautionary notes were offered even by those doing clinical work: “Patients who are more disturbed (e.g., psychotic processes, hospitalizations, suicidal ideation and parasuicidal self-injury behaviors) were the most bothered by not being able to come into the office to meet with me in person.” Technology is indispensable when it comes to working remotely, yet it cannot displace the in-person work being done by those providing psychological services—especially under conditions of high stress or personal dysfunction. Perhaps high-tech can never ultimately take the place of high touch (or at least direct interactions).

The importance of relationships and inner life

One of things that the virus has taught many of us is about the importance of relationships and our own internal world. One of our respondents offered this straightforward conclusion regarding what COVID has taught them: “Relationships are all that matters.” Another respondent framed it even more dramatically: “Relationships are [an] Existential need.” This revelation, unfortunately, has often taken place in a societal setting (enforced by social norms and regulations) that restricted our enactment of this priority.

As we have already noted in this report, the result of this ironic juxtaposition of increased need and decreased access was a growing sense of isolation and loneliness among not only those being provided with psychological services, but also those offering these services. One of our respondents put it this way: “We don’t have vaccine for loneliness.” What we did have, as helping professionals, was the opportunity to reach out (even if remotely) to other people by providing psychological services.  It was not just the case, as one respondent put it, of “Interacting with others”, it was also the case of being able “to make a difference to individuals.”

There were also benefits associated with the necessity for each of us to spend more time “with ourselves” in a condition of remaining at home for extended periods of time. There were lessons to be learned at several levels, as one respondent noted: the virus brought about “changing lifestyle and daily schedules.” A shift in priorities was noted: “We don’t have to be out an about all the time.” Yet another noted the lessons learned about new ways of interacting with other people: “interacting with others as lockdowns frequently occurred and most communication went online.”

It was during the lockdown that some of our respondents identified the learning about and embracing a new sense of what is often now called “resiliency” in the psychological literature. We might be faced with the prospects of collective (or individual) trauma yet find a way to reframe this threat (as we have already noted) so that we can learn more about our own strengths and capacity to adjust (what psychologists call “agility”). One of our respondents framed it as self-learning leading to greater professional effectiveness: “protective factors helped me to help others tap into their resiliency”

Self-reflection also has led, as we have already noted, to a reassessment of life priorities and purposes. New and elevated levels of motivation were noted by respondents. They wrote about the “importance of connection” and a “shifting sense of purpose.” One respondent put it this way. “Fully stopping [as a result of the virus] helps clarify what you truly want to continue.”

We are reminded of the advice offered by Daniel Kahneman (2011), the noted behavioral economist. He encourages us to engage in slow thinking when faced with complex and often anxiety-provoking challenges (such as COVID-19), rather than reacting hastily deploying untested assumptions and biases. New priorities and a reframing of the challenges (to make them into moments for new learning) can emerge from these moments of self-reflection—often required under conditions of lockdown and the mixture of work and homelife.

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About the Author

William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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