We are, as a profession, as a nation, and as people on earth, going through a tremendous change in our daily lives. As the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many psychologists to stay at home, to use remote learning tactics, and to use telehealth to do their jobs, I thought about how I would have reacted to this pandemic if I were entering post-doc this year, or if I had just started my career as a psychologist.
I am currently seven years out of graduate school, so a “late” early career psychologist, and am stable enough in my job to afford to take some time for myself in times of stress and crisis. I have developed a clinical and academic career, where I am able to freely express my thoughts and opinions and have been allowed some freedom based on the trust I have gained from my supervisors and colleagues; however, I think my life,
my stress, and how I am handling the crisis would be different if I were just beginning my career. As I thought about this, I wanted to share some wisdom I received from my mentors which has been helpful, and I believe would be helpful in our current times.
You do not have to say yes to everything. When I started my career, I felt that I had to accept every case, accept every request, and do everything that was asked of me, because I did not want to let my colleagues, my supervisors, and my mentors down. Here is the thing, though – you have to learn to say no. Sometimes, (actually, a lot of times) you have likely had too much on your plate. Most of us are overachievers, so many of us
(me included) want to be able to do everything all the time because we want to be the best at our profession. We are in the field of helping people and attempting to make them feel good about their lives, which makes saying no difficult. These things combined can lead to a person not recognizing when he or she might be overwhelmed. Learn to say no, and know that it is ok to do so when you feel there is too much on your plate.
Take care of yourself first. This may sound selfish, but I think it is important. I recommend this because it would be difficult to help others if we are not at our best. During therapy, regardless of modality, we discuss things like stress management, mental wellness, and physical wellness. All these discussions you have with your clients, you should have with yourself, especially if you have just started your career during this unique time.
It is ok that it is difficult. COVID-19 has brought a new way to practice for many of us, learning telepsychology for the first time. Many of us may not be the most “tech savvy,” and we have probably struggled to have the same therapeutic effectiveness, or even job satisfaction, from telepsychology. This can be traumatic for some of us, and we need to be able to recognize the struggle. Yes, we are lucky that many of us within the profession can continue practicing because of this technology, but that does not mean it does not come with difficulties.
Think creatively about what you need. Many of us have now transitioned to working from home, which brings its own challenges. If you have family in the house, it might be difficult to find a place that is private and quiet to conduct therapy. Sometimes we have to be creative in how we deliver what the client might need. For example, you may have a client who needs to get out but is not motivated to do so. In this case, why not have a session where you are both outside? Having such experiences together with your client might be meaningful to some because he/she may feel more connected to you in having such experiences. There are obvious ethical, legal and logistical hurdles, but it is something that might be worth thinking about.
Rethink your own priorities, professionally and personally. Once you are out of graduate school, you should reassess what your priorities are, both professionally and personally. Going through graduate school changes you in both aspects, and most of us have not had time to sit and think about this during the transition from graduate student to early career psychologist. In looking at your own priorities, you can start to make decisions based on your values and long- term needs instead of short-term goals. This will enable you to follow a path that would lead you to be satisfied in your practice of psychology and be happy in your personal life. Recall all those discussions you have heard about work/life balance? They probably should start earlier rather than later.
COVID-19 has made us have to re-think our “normal” and reassess our own futures. It is valuable to think about this unique time as a way to also think about “old” problems of being an early career psychologist. It is my hope that I am able to pass on advice that has helped me develop who I am as a psychologist and as a person, which has also helped me manage my own life during this pandemic.
I hope that you all stay safe and stay healthy.
About the Arthur
Dr. Kento Yasuhara received his B.A. in Psychology from Cornell University, worked as a post-baccalaureate research fellow at the National Institute of Mental Health, and received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology with a concentration in forensic psychology from Drexel University in 2012. After completing a pre-doctoral internship at Patton State Hospital in California and a post-doctoral fellowship at the Institute of Law, Psychiatry, and Public Policy at the University of Virginia, he accepted a position at the University of New Haven. He is currently an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of New Haven. Dr. Yasuhara’s research involves the areas where mental health and criminal justice interact, such as evaluations involving mental state at the time of the offense, violence risk, and competency. Other research interests include public perception of mental illness, specifically involving the criminal justice system. Additionally, Dr. Yasuhara works as a clinical psychologist at Straun Health and Wellness as well as provides psychological assessment services through his private practice. He is the past-chair of the Student Early Career Psychologist Committee and has previously served on the Executive Board of the American Psychology Law Society, Division 41 of APA.