Courtney McCuen-Wurst, PsyD, LCSW
University of Pennsylvania
To say this past year has been rough is an understatement. As an early career psychologist, working from home and monitoring a seven year old during virtual schooling and a three year old ball of energy, I have certainly had my moments of insanity. I have learned a lot about myself with the biggest lesson being that I was not meant to teach second grade! I have also learned that, although it can be difficult, it is important to ask for help, from both immediate and extended family members and colleagues. Asking for help is a piece of self-care not often mentioned in the literature.
When self care should be at the forefront of our minds, it’s been next to impossible with many ECPs and other mental health clinicians being tasked with additional responsibilities to provide care to people in our communities struggling with the pandemic. Although I am not on the frontlines like the amazing nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers I know, I have tried to do my part to serve our patients during this uncertain time, even to the detriment of my own self-care.
At the start of the pandemic, I was expected to provide my availability to my place of employment to meet the mental health needs of my organization’s employees. I was already overwhelmed with maintaining my typical duties in addition to adjusting to working from home and becoming an elementary school educator. But, I did as expected and as an ECP, I felt it was important to be a team player as I have concerns about my career trajectory and, in the time of pandemic, job security. After some time of extending myself, I recognized the burnout and the need to ask for help. You cannot pour from an empty cup, after all.
I am fortunate to have a great relationship with my supervisor. And, although I was quite nervous to shatter the façade of having it all together, I knew it was best for me, my family and my patients to engage in self-care, which in this case was asking for help. Due to the nature of our work, my supervisor did not express surprise when I described my struggles as she had an inkling for some time. She understood my overwhelm as she is human and was also experiencing pandemic related struggles. I requested help based on the justification that the possible negative effects of my stress and imbalance could negatively impact my ability to meet the needs of my clients, which is always our greatest concern. And, I provided a timeline of when I felt I would be better able to meet their needs. In response, my boss adjusted my work duties accordingly to relieve some of the stress so that I may focus on regaining my professional and personal balance (as much as I can in pandemic times) so that I may better serve my patients. For this, I will be forever grateful.
Now fully vaccinated, I can say that I do see a sliver of light in the COVID-19 tunnel. I am able to go into my office on occasion, which is a breath of fresh air. However, with virtual schooling being as it is at the moment, I must push forward with working from home with the hope that life will return to some sense of normalcy come September! To my fellow ECPs, keep going. Ask for help. We are all in this together.