It was quiet in the practice on Wednesday evening, some of my colleagues were away, and others were working behind closed doors. I finished my last session at 7 pm, closed my trusty laptop, picked up my raggedy pad with scrawled notes, untangled the cords to my old-fashioned earphones, and packed my bag. Took my favourite green teacup to the kitchen, said goodnight to Millie who was managing the reception desk and slid out the backdoor.
I left behind the psychologist’s chair, its contours will be warmed by someone else, but no longer by me.
Tears slid down my face as I drove the 10 minutes to my home. That was it, I’d retired. I’d finished my career as a psychologist. Who was I now?
I was only working two days a week but those last 20 sessions in the final fortnight were gruelling. Every session was a heartfelt goodbye. It was like putting unfinished books back on the shelf, but therapy is often like that. This time though I knew that the clients could not return. I would not witness chapters yet to be told or future chapters of their lives. I’d worked intensely with these wonderful people, some for many years and knew their hopes and dreams. I knew what held them back and I had to let them all go.
The tears that escaped only hinted at the turmoil within me. Grief, joy, fear, hope, regret, and relief whirled within me but were mostly contained during those last sessions. I hugged clients, shook hands, patted backs and, accepted gifts, letters and cards. “Goodbye, go well, take care” I whispered. I hoped I would bump into them in the street some time, but I have rarely seen clients outside the therapy room. Floundering for the final words, nothing I said felt enough.
I will miss the laughter
A friend asked what would I miss most when I stopped being a psychologist, and I surprised myself when I said “the laughter”. The laughter of therapy is like no other. We expect tears in therapy but not laughter and yet they come from the same deep well of emotions. I will miss those moments when a client suddenly laughs at what they are saying or thinking. It’s not a dismissive or condescending laugh, Nor is it an avoidant laugh. Rather it seems like a ray of sunshine, giggling with the delight of new knowledge. The joyful newness of discovering a new way of being.
How I will miss those clever, ironic and humorous comments made by clients when they suddenly understand a part of themself. I rarely laugh as deeply and with such compassion in my “real” life.
You’ll find me drinking Bloody Marys in my PJs
My son, daughter, and daughter-in-law celebrated my retirement by gifting me a bottle of vodka, Bloody Mary mix, lemon juice, a glass, and PJs. The Bloody Mary tradition was born while living in Papua New Guinea for eight years. I would board the plane to leave and order a Bloody Mary. It’s become our family marker of travel and transitions. Is this what they think I’ll be doing with the rest of my life?
Therapy is an act of love
While part of me still longs to do the therapeutic work I no longer want to sit inside a closed room for many hours of the day. I want to be free to create (perhaps to write another book), to enjoy the sun on my face. and perhaps to do nothing much at all.
I want to re-connect with the people I love but have not seen enough of.
For me, therapy has been an act of love. A love full of respect, safety, caring, boundaries, vulnerability, growth and hope. Therapy has often included raging against the injustices of the world. I will find ways to maintain both love and rage.
I have such gratitude for the wonderful, inspiring and insightful clients and colleagues with whom I have shared my therapeutic journey. Thank you.
I met June Stevens 35 years ago at the beginning of my journey to become a psychologist, and now I have four weeks until I retire. I was 30 years old, newly married, and had just moved from Sydney to Nowra on the South Coast of New South Wales. Nowra was the smallest community I had lived in and I felt uncomfortable with my newly discovered public visibility. People I met immediately placed me on the correct branch of the Moorhouse family tree – “Oh you’re Rhonda and Arthur’s youngest son’s wife! “Are you Owen or Arthurs’s new daughter-in-law?” “We heard Jenell had a new sister-in-law”.
I felt both welcomed and alienated by strangers deftly placing me in the family system. It was as if they knew something I wasn’t privy to. For the first time I understood why people dressed up to go to the supermarket as I would undoubtedly run into some matriarch of the community there. For a while, I felt unable to pop down to the shops in my favourite daggy t-shirt and shorts. I mourned my anonymity.
The move to Nowra was part of our plan to start a family. After we made the decision, I discovered that I was eligible to go to university – for free! As a teenager in New Zealand, I failed the equivalent of grade 12 and university was wiped as an option for me. In Sydney, I had just completed a Diploma in Personnel Management – 2 nights a week for 3 years through the TAFE system, while working full time. I was bursting with pride at this achievement.
Completing the course unexpectedly provided me with entry into university and 6 months off my degree. Even though I was a New Zealander I was still eligible for the free study, and I was even eligible for a student payment as I’d only gotten married that year. I would lose it the next year as a “wife”! The girl who failed school could go to university. So after we moved to Nowra I made the 160 km round train trip to Wollongong university, 3 times a week and began studying psychology. Thank you, Gough Whitlam
June, and the Lifeline Telephone Counselling course
I only knew my husband’s family in this small town and had limited time and opportunity to make friends. I was definitely lonely. I discovered the Lifeline Telephone Counselling course was offered in Nowra. The course lured me with the hope of real-world experience to accompany my academic studies and access to a community of like-minded people. I’m sure the confidentiality and secrecy surrounding being a Lifeline telephone counsellor was also part of the attraction.
June Stevens was the course facilitator. Even though she knew all the Moorhouses, I felt seen by June. It was June who taught me how to listen. It was June who introduced me to the unconditional positive regard of Carl Rogers. It was June who facilitated my unexpected self growth through the course. It was June who infused my heart with empathy and respect for others which I carried forward. My clients and I benefited from June’s work.
A bookend to my career as a psychologist
I left Nowra 30 years ago and have not seen June on my visits back. My parents-in-law see her regularly and I know I have been a topic of conversation. Last week, a month out from my retirement, my book Not Forgotten: they called me number 10 at Neerkol orphanagewas given to June, who is now 90 years old. The book is the culmination of my career as a psychologist and provides a wonderful bookend to my career. It gives me great pleasure to see the finale of my life as a psychologist held by June, who was present way back in the beginning. I hope she sees the ripple of her work through the pages.
Wow, what a year! As a psychologist, the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic barrelled through my work, rest, and play, leaving me besieged with questions.
One week I was delivering face to face therapy, the next week I was huddled in my spare bedroom providing telehealth on the phone and through video for 8 weeks. Clients embraced the technology, and therapy continued much the same as it had before, or did it?
What happened to that space where clients travel to and from therapy?
The coming to and going from therapy is part of the reflective process. You make space and time for yourself, travel there, arrive, settle in, engage in therapy, and then travel away. What is the impact on the therapeutic process when you just move from the lounge to your bedroom, or when you continue doing chores or parenting while you talk?
How many times did I interrupt the process of therapy?
I would barge in asking “Can you still hear me”? Or ask clients to repeat themselves as I strained hearing only every fourth word on a video call because of that annoying delay. Those spaces of time where no one speaks have a multitude of meanings in therapy: “I don’t know what to say next”, “I’m overwhelmed”, “I’m angry or sad or tired”,” I’m reflecting and processing”, “It’s too much”, “Stop, “Go on”. The silences were much harder to navigate on the phone or even by video.
How many tears did I miss?
I learned that the glistening of teary eyes is impossible to see over the phone and difficult over video. How many times did I not pause to honour the tears? How many other emotions did I misinterpret or not notice?
How do I hold space for clients when I am navigating the same storm?
As therapists, we become adept at tracking and managing our own emotions during sessions so that the focus remains on the client. I’ve been aware of an increased need to do this as clients express their fears, grief and anger of living through a pandemic. I could so often say “me too”. I’m continually checking in and asking myself (and clients) “What do I need to do to care for myself today?”
What will work look like in the future?
Clients, friends and family have shared how they loathe or love working from home. Some feel released from the cacophony of noise, people and demands. Others are grieving the loss of human connection.
I cringe when I hear organisations stating how wonderfully productive working-from-home has been and how they will be implementing it for their employees in the future. I’ve heard too many stories of people overworking due to boredom during lockdown or fear of job losses. We are only at the beginning of this forced work-from-home pandemic experiment. What may have been expedient in the initial sprint of the pandemic may not be sustainable in what is turning out to be a marathon. How will friendships develop with reduced work socialisation? How do you build trust in a team when you are rarely in close contact? How many more lonely people will we have in Australia? Will employers make workplaces leaner and meaner and perhaps insist employees work predominantly from home as a cost-cutting move? How can we design better lives for ourselves as we come out of this pandemic?
About 30% of my work continues to be telehealth which is fantastic for clients who, for whatever reason, cannot come in for face-to-face sessions. I am grateful the intensity of delivering telehealth has eased for me and commiserate with colleagues delivering telehealth full time, even though I know some like it. After a day of telehealth, my body was stiff and ached with the increased concentration, my eyes were sore as if I was trying to use them to listen and I was emotionally spent. Do I need to upgrade my computer and earphones or source an ergonomic chair designed for telehealth? Would it make that much of a difference if I did?
How can we maintain the sanctuary of home?
I’ve vigilantly kept home separate from work, and I like it that way. During my work-from-home period, my haven was temporarily invaded, not just by my work but also by my noisy husband. After 35 years of marriage, I learnt my husband talks a lot at work, much more than I ever imagined! His voice echoed through the house until I banished him to a bedroom. What did others learn about their partners during this enforced episode of closeness? How did others maintain the sanctuary of the home, or was it not important to them? Is delineating between work and rest important? Are people now sleeping and being intimate in their workspaces?
Why didn’t I buy shares in home renovation and craft businesses?
Before we went into lockdown I encouraged my family to buy what they needed for those small home reno projects and to stock up on art and craft goods. I celebrated rooms painted, pots decorated, furniture made and first-time attempts at embroidery. I received the most beautiful hand made mothers day card. I feasted on new menus. I heard songs broadcast by those who had been too scared to perform. I learnt to crochet via youtube and created a Pandemic Christmas Wreath. Each year as I hang it I will remember 2020 as the year that was like no other.
As people experience the rhthym, creativity, passion, problem-solving, absorption and satisfaction that art and crafts bring will they be re-valued and retained in our post-pandemic world? Are art and craft the richest form of mindfulness?
How do I socialise?
For me, play is dominated by spending time with others, particularly those I love. I hold increased gratitude for those who live geographically close to me and to those who have continued to include me in the rhythm of their lives. Friends who meet me regularly for walks help provide a missing structure. I find it unexpectedly difficult to organise meeting up with others. It’s as if spontaneity has seeped out of me. How will I rekindle it? And what about the planners who love to see a full diary, how are they managing? What are people looking forward to? It’s as if I’m looking at the world through dirty glasses, something is not quite right yet I can’t wipe it away. How would others describe their experience?
Have communities changed?
My Tarragindi neighbours organised regular pandemic drinks in our cul de sac on Sunday afternoons. Initially, we social distanced, calling to each other from across the road. As the pandemic eased in Queensland we became closer.
On ANZAC Day my husband trumpeted The Last Post from our driveway, neighbours joining us from a distance, telling us it was the most moving ANZAC Day they’d attended.
I now know my neighbours far better than I did at the beginning of 2020. Will we continue with these new social traditions? Do communities feel closer now or more distant? Will the way we make and sustain relationships change?
When will I see my family and friends?
My arms ache to hug my daughter, brother, sister, parents-in-law, nephews, nieces and friends. No matter how many video calls we have my most pressing question remains “When will I see my daughter again?”.
Update: 2020. We have suffered through the Australian Bush Fires and now are in the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic. People have lost their jobs, their homes and their lives as they know it. There is an increased demand for bulk billed mental health services. After a week of providing bulk billed telehealth to clients it is clear, that despite our best intentions, the bulk billing rate is unsustainable. At this time telehealth can only be bulk billed. We are unable to charge a gap fee. Psychologists will be unable to pay their rent and put food on their table. It is devastating. We need an increase in the bulk billing rate. Please sign the petition Increase Access to Essential Psychology Services – End Two-Tier Medicare.
After a day working with vulnerable people, many of whom have been hurt at the hands of others, its no wonder that psychologists often have difficulty nodding off to sleep at night. Yet it’s not worrying about clients that keep many of us awake.
Midnight Worry No. 1 – Can I survive financially?
Psychologists, particularly if they are in private practice, worry about whether they can continue to make a living. We know that many vulnerable clients who require psychological treatment, often have difficulty paying for the service. You cannot sustain a psych0logy practice by bulk billing clients ($86.15 Medicare payment) and also pay rent, insurance, professional development, administration costs, superannuation, sick leave, and holiday leave. One restless night I calculated what my income would look like if I tried to bulk bill.
Bulk billing income $2,153.75 x 46 weeks (4 weeks holiday and 10 public holidays)$86.15 per hour x 25 hours = $2,153.75 per week
25 clinical hours is a full-time workload with time to do the myriad of other tasks including liaising with doctors, schools, and solicitors.
Superannuation As a predominantly female workforce let’s not join the growing ranks of women over the age of 55 who have no superannuation
Additional expenses – 20% of income Conservative estimate of small business operating expenses including admin support, accountants, legal advice, utilities etc.
I feel sick about this, but I have not calculated an allowance for sick leave. If you’re a bulk billing psychologist it’s unlikely you’ll be able to charge clients who don’t turn up. Most psychologists don’t have a full diary of 25 clients attending each and every week. Now I understand why psychologists need to charge at least twice the bulk-billing rate.
At the end of the year, the tension around the cost of psychological services is exacerbated as many clients have used up the 10 subsidised sessions provided by Medicare for a calendar year. All psychologists hate those days when clients ask us to reduce our fee, or even worse, provide a free session. It’s like choosing between providing the service to the client and paying your own bills.
How do you tell a mother, who’s recently left a DV relationship, that you won’t see her 13-year-old daughter who has started self-harming until January next year when Medicare kicks in again? Not much point in asking her RUOK if there is no alternative service to refer her to. That’s the stuff of our nightmares as I wrote in Dear Mental Health Client, please don’t be too unwell.
Midnight Worry No 2 – What to do about workplace discrimination?
Many psychologists know their employment choices have been unfairly reduced. Jobs for psychologists are sometimes advertised as only being available for those with clinical endorsements, without any rational reason. This unfairly disadvantages most psychologists (and clients), for no valid reason. Some of us toss and turn at night trying to make sense of an industry that eliminates highly qualified and experienced candidates from jobs. It’s hard to sleep when your enraged – Enraged psychologists fighting for an improved mental health system
Surely Australians that use government-funded mental health services have a right to expect that they will be seen by the most appropriately skilled psychologist available? There are 30,385 psychologists in Australia of which only 9,000 have a clinical endorsement. That’s a serious reduction in the pool of candidates.
Midnight Worry No 3 – Why is psychology a split profession?
Psychologists are anxiously waiting for the outcome of the Medicare Benefits Schedule Taskforce Review into Mental Health. If the recently released MBS Eating Disorders changes are indicative of what’s coming, the pay disparity between psychologists with clinical endorsement and those without will be magnified. A client who sees a psychologist without clinical endorsement will receive a Medicare rebate of $101.35 whereas a client who sees a psychologist with clinical endorsement will receive a rebate of $148.80. Both psychologists will be doing the same work. Holding a clinical endorsement does not mean the psychologist has a higher level of education, expertise or experience.
No wonder many of us can’t sleep when we find ourselves sitting next to another psychologist, equally experienced, educated, skilled and professional (and often our friend), yet for some unfathomable reason, they are being paid almost $50 per hour more, for providing exactly the same service. If psychologists who are not in private practice don’t think this affects them, watch what happens to even more job advertisements as this disparity continues and becomes embedded as the status quo.
Midnight Worry No 4 – Do psychologists really care?
There is an energetic Australian Psychologist’s Facebook Group, but we need thousands more members. Could our membership reach 20,000 and include most Australian psychologists? We need the power of numbers to allow the dissemination of information. This is a great use of social media. Do psychologists really care what’s happening in their profession? Do they care about how this disadvantages their clients? I’ve contemplated this before – Uniting Psychologists: Visionaries, Activists, Noisemakers… and Bystanders. In the midnight hours, I ponder whether psychologists are complacent, apathetic, overwhelmed or disbelieving, I haven’t yet come up with an answer.
The Australian Association of Psychologists Inc (AAPi) provides a viable and ethical alternative to the Australian Psychological Society (APS). The APS has to take responsibility for the mess the profession is in now. They have not been advocating for the majority of psychologists. AAPi needs the power of membership numbers to negotiate on our behalf, and on behalf of clients. Yet many psychologists remain members of the APS, which continually fails to represent them.
I recently bumped into a young ex-work colleague, she’s a psychologist establishing her practice. I explained what was happening and referred her to AAPi and the Australian Psychologists Facebook page, but sadly her response was that she didn’t want to be “political”. Similarly, another psychologist on maternity leave maintained her APS membership for fear of retribution, even though she was adamant that they’d done nothing to assist her career. It’s not a requirement that psychologists are members of any professional organisation but both these young women have the most to lose in the current situation, and would benefit from an organisation which represents them, and their clients.
Dreaming of a way forward
The way forward is for psychologists to actively engage in protecting and growing their profession. We must be proactive to ensure clients can access a diverse workforce of psychologists.
Join the Australian Association of Psychologists Inc – it’s only $250 per annum for a full-time psychologist and $100 if you’re part-time. If you are too fearful to leave the APS then at least be members of both! Follow them on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter too. Students can join for free.
Join the Australian Psychologists Facebook Page– it’s a closed group and they’ll ask you some questions to check you’re not a robot, and that you are a psychologist. It’s an amazing community of psychologists.
Disseminate information. When you see an ad or article from AAPi share it on Linkedin, Twitter, and Facebook. Email information directly to psychologists who you know are out of the social media loop. Talk to your colleagues.
Unite. Share your concerns with your clinically endorsed colleagues. These may be difficult conversations but it may be the only way to dispel the myths surrounding the split and to unite the profession.
Sharethis article with every psychologist you know and ask them to share it with every psychologist they know. Share AAPi posts and information.
We celebrated my brother’s 60th birthday with Takaro Trails three-day self-guided cycling tour of the Hawkes Bay in New Zealand. There were four of us over 60, and one young man of 59, my husband Steven. While laughing, riding and celebrating life “active, balanced and connected” became my mantra for healthy ageing.
Riding through the Takaro Trails I contemplated the opportunities in my life to remain active.
Keeping my mind active will be easy, I hope. I love to read, listen to podcasts, write and play computer games. Social injustice still fires me up and I’m curious about the world. I delight in talking to young people and discovering their views. Even though my adult kids roll around the floor laughing at me, I enjoy learning new technology and embrace social media. I still work part-time as a psychologist and I remain committed to my professional development. I’m inspired by the hopes and dreams of colleagues and clients.
Keeping my body active will be more of a challenge. Despite this bike trip, and that I also rode the Otago Rail Trail, I’ve never particularly enjoyed exercise, yet I know how essential it is. I do enjoy an easy cycle at the weekends and have sometimes regularly ridden my bike to work. I dabble in a bit of yoga, and I particularly like Yoga with Adrienne’ videos. Some mornings I manage to get myself out for a walk. My most active engagement in group exercise was through NIA dance and exercise classes. I kept that up for two years and will probably return to the welcoming group. Pottering in the garden brings me great pleasure and is another of my active pastimes. I purposefully increase my incidental exercise too, often parking Continue reading →
My friend is terrified of lifts so we climbed up the dingy stairwell to the third floor, only to find our exit door locked. After pointlessly pulling at the securely locked door a few times, we turned and scurried back down the stairs, to find the door we’d entered through also locked. Anxiety slowly rose in my throat. What if we’re stuck in the stairwell for eternity?
Frantically, we descended further flinging open the lower ground floor door to the street, bursting out into the bright sunshine. We re-entered the building, now no option remained but to brave the lift. My friend scooted into the back corner, her body firmly pressed against the walls, arms folded against her chest. Her eyes startled with fear and yet also relieved that we were the only ones locked in the confined, windowless space that she hates so much.
The long hallway to the inner city psychiatrist’s office was bland and soulless, terracotta tiled floor, cream walls and mission brown fixtures – a flashback to the ’70s.
Waiting outside the psychiatrist’s office
The psychiatrist, unknown to my friend or me, greeted her warmly, even though we were 10 minutes early. The psychiatrist had received a myriad of documents and clearly knew that this appointment was going to be distressing for my friend. Despite the kindliness of the psychiatrist, my friend looked pleadingly at me as she slowly followed her to the psychiatrist’s office. She Continue reading →
You came quietly into my counselling room, looking a bit unsure, eyes cast downwards. Hesitant to speak.
It had been tough to pluck up the courage and ask your GP for a referral to a psychologist. You hardly ever see your GP and felt uncomfortable when they asked about your mental health and living situation. You gave the GP brief answers, just wanting the appointment over and done with. This stuff so hard to talk about.
Starting your treatment
You left the GP with a Mental Health Care Plan for 6 sessions, a bit surprised to learn that they’re not free because most psychologists can’t afford to bulk bill. Ouch, this is more expensive than you anticipated. You also learned that you can only have 10 Medicare subsidised sessions each year. Still, you think, 10 sessions must be enough for the psychologist to “fix” you. Why else would they only give you this many? It seemed like quite a lot of sessions at the time.
It was so hard for you to come to the first appointment. Initially you tell me you are “just a little bit depressed and anxious”. By our fourth session, you’ve trusted me enough to share the Continue reading →
I’ve never met so many enraged psychologists as I have in the last six months. We’re channelling our pent up fury by pounding keyboards, our battle cry is echoing loudly through social media and Members of Parliament (MP’s) are being accosted at every opportunity.
And that goes against everything I know about my usually sedate and contemplative colleagues.
Life of an enraged Psychologist
Let me tell you a bit about the life of a psychologist. We work with vulnerable people in our Continue reading →
Let’s take time out to acknowledge and celebrate stepfathers on Fathers Day. Over 20% of Australian children live in step or blended families, therefore, thousands of men are stepping into an ambiguous and difficult role.
Those passionate and delightful “in love” feelings couples experience in a new relationship don’t necessarily encompass your new partner’s children. And kids don’t Continue reading →
Our admin team consists of two psychology students and a mental health nurse.
Together we have about 100 years of psychological expertise, hard earned in a range of settings including domestic violence services, sexual assault services, child-focused treatment centres, mental health institutions, relationship services, unemployment services and crisis lines.