'It’s a kind of social meteorite'
The Covid-19 pandemic has raised the profile of psychologists and their work and highlighted their vital role during a public health crisis. The British Psychological Society recently explored psychologists’ experiences during this time, with a focus on wellbeing, through a survey and report, two webinars, and sharing personal videos from psychologists.
The report, The impact of Covid-19 on the wellbeing of psychologists, explored survey results of more than 200 academic, practitioner and trainee psychologists – including the challenges they had experienced and the types of support they had found useful. Its authors outlined a list of the 10 key impacts which the survey uncovered. These included personal anxiety and uncertainty, adjustments to remote working, increased workload, ethical, moral and professional dilemmas. There were also more positive impacts, such as professional and personal growth and the increased public understanding of the positive role psychology has had during the pandemic.
The psychologists who responded to the survey were also asked about the mechanisms of support which they had found useful for their wellbeing. These included having access to group reflective spaces, support from colleagues, practical help with adjusting to home working, guidance documents, having boundaries between work and home, and support from managers and supervisors.
The BPS also held two webinars – the first to launch the report and hold a panel discussion on its list of 10 impacts and resources, and the second to host an in-depth discussion on the topic of psychologist wellbeing during Covid-19 and beyond. The society also shared videos of the personal reflections of psychologists including Dr Lorraine Gordon, Consultant Counselling Psychologist, who has worked in the NHS for more than 20 years and also works in private practice.
Gordon was asked about the ways Covid-19 and working remotely had impacted minorities and vulnerable people. Gordon said that the Covid-19 pandemic had highlighted inequality in society in numerous ways – for example many services users, and particularly refugees and asylum seekers, had no access to smartphones or the internet. ‘There’s a real risk of digital exclusion continuing as the pandemic continues. As people say it’s a marathon not a sprint… we need to be adjusting over that period of time and thinking about new ways of working, making sure we’re not excluding people, particularly our most vulnerable people.’
A video of Consultant Counselling Psychologist Dr Khushbu Haria, who works in a community CAMHS setting, was also featured by the society. She was asked about ethical and moral dilemmas encountered during the pandemic and pointed to young people who have no access to a spare room or other space to speak confidentially.
Also asked about personal anxiety and her own reaction to lockdown, Haria said the situation had given her a new appreciation of those who struggle with anxiety disorders or depression. ‘It's really made me think a little bit more about self-care and I think working from home has really helped because it's allowed me to practice what I preach a little bit in terms of making dinner, doing exercise, eating well… In terms of personal growth it's allowed me to… appreciate how we adapt as humans.’
Consultant Clinical Psychologist, and Head of Employee Wellbeing for Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, Dr Adrian Neal, was also featured in the series of videos. Asked about the changing conversations about mental health, and the impact of Covid-19 on mental health, Neal said that it would be difficult to see the full impact of the pandemic for a long time to come. ‘If you think about what Covid is, it’s not just a disease, it’s a kind of social meteorite… it’s having rippling effects all over... we’ve talked a lot about trauma but what does that really mean?… diagnostic levels versus your small ’t’ trauma, where people become more anxious and are feeling more vulnerable, it’s really hard to understand where it’s going but certainly a greater sense of vulnerability, a greater sense of caution, probably a greater sense of vigilance for threat.’
Neal said he wanted to steer the conversation away from 'fixing' individuals to creating greater stability and safety in people’s teams and systems. ‘Can we create peer support networks rather than therapy support? I think those conversations are probably being had in a number of places, but I guess we just have to be really thoughtful about how we navigate through this when there’s a lot of people screaming for solutions to really complex problems.’
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