June 1st, 2012

Self care at core of committee’s work

Psychologist, heal thyself…

A key component of the American Psychological Association’s code of ethics, self care is one of those widely accepted yet rarely enacted practices. Knowing how to find a balance can be a key aspect of creating a strong professional life.

The Rhode Island Psychological Association (RIPA) recently created a colleague assistance committee, designed to give practitioners a resource for information on self-care, from information on practice issues and case consultation to help with finding that balance in life.

Megan B. Spencer, Ph.D., chair of the committee, as well as a clinical neuropsychologist at the Providence Veteran’s Administration Medical Center and a clinical assistant professor at Brown University in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, spoke with New England Psychologist’s Catherine Robertson Souter about the new committee and some of the key components it hopes to offer.

Q: How did the Colleague Assistance Committee (CAC) get started?

A: Leslie Feil, Ph.D., the previous RIPA president, asked me if I was interested in beginning a task force to look at the need for colleague assistance in Rhode Island and what we might offer that would fit well with the unique needs of R.I. psychologists.

We looked at what other states do and found that there is a lot of variability. Some states primarily provide treatment or monitoring for psychologists who have been identified by the licensing board as having ethical conflicts. Others are primarily a resource for psychologists who want more about self care strategies and practice guidelines to prevent themselves from getting to a point of having complaints made. That is what we have adopted.

The CAC was also created as a mechanism for helping psychologists reach the ethical mandates of the APA’s ethics code. The code states psychologists must be aware of issues related to self care and personal stressors in the therapist’s life and take appropriate steps to ensure good continuity of care in the face of disruptions to practice (such as in the event of therapist illness), all which the CAC hopes to be able to help R.I. psychologists achieve.

Q: What has the committee done so far?

A: In March, the CAC, in conjunction with the ethics committee, offered a CEU workshop on transitions looking at different types of potential disruptions to practice. The hope of the workshop was to educate psychologists about the kinds of things to think about when you encounter a disruption in practice whether that is an illness, the birth or adoption of a child or an unexpected event that pulls you away from practice or the ability to practice at your best.

Part of the topic we covered was self care: allowing yourself time to acknowledge warning signs of burnout, what to look for, how to structure your daily schedule so you are not taking on too many clients and making time to take a break during the day.

They appreciated the examples we gave to help apply the ideas to their own practice and the resources to find out where to develop a professional will.

Q: What is a professional will?

A: Professional will is sort of a misnomer; it should be called an emergency plan because it is not just for psychologists who are ill or in the later stages of career, it’s for any point in their career. It is just a document that provides information about how a practice is run and where to find key client information in the event you have a leave from practice.

Q: What would you include in it?

A“: The first thing is to think about who is executor. Ideally, this is another psychologist or a master’s level clinician who understands your practice habits and your values and how you would want things to be run. You want to give them full orientation to your practice including where your files, billing records and client lists are located, passwords to your computer and voice mail, your professional liability insurance carrier information. They need to know where you keep your secure test materials and your works in progress if you write psychological and neuropsychological reports.

Client contact is a big part of your professional will. It is helpful to plan how you would want clients to be told if something were to happen to you.

There is no right or wrong there, but you would have to specify if you want them to be called on phone or sent a letter. Also, you can draft your own letters to your clients based on different scenarios and have some control over how they would be notified.

The same goes for informing colleagues. Who do you want to be informed and how?

A key aspect of this also is informed consent. When your patients come in, in your informed consent for treatment or assessment, it’s helpful to have in there that there is someone who will be in taking care of your affairs in case of an unexpected absence.

Q: It sounds like this could be a lot of work for anyone you ask. How would someone take over your business if they are already running their own?

A: Your executor is involved in the development of your emergency plan and they will have to know what it would entail to manage your business or wrap it up depending on what happened and they would have to agree they could handle it. They shouldn’t take it on if they feel like it’s going to be too much.

That’s also a reason to have more than one executor. You could have two executors to share the workload.

I often think that people already do this. They have informal arrangements with people who are familiar with how they run things. I think the idea of a professional will is just in making it explicit, formalizing it and writing it down so someone could step into their role if they needed to. It’s relevant for everybody but particularly for people who are in private practice and do not have a larger institutionalized structure for these kind of situations.

Q: What will the next step be for the committee?

A: Our next initiative is the formation of a data base on our RIPA Web site where psychologists who are seeking treatment can find a listing of providers who identify themselves as having experience treating other mental health professionals or are open to working with people in the mental health field. Particularly in R.I., but also in some areas of Massachusetts and Connecticut, you sort of know everyone and it can be difficult to find someone you don’t already have a personal or professional relationship with.

We are also going to include in this resource a section in case you’re looking for someone to consult with on a case-by-case basis as well as people who identify themselves as being knowledgeable in business practice issues.

That’s all in the hopes that choosing treatment or consultation or help with the daily running of your business is going to prevent problems for you down the road. It’s a form of self-care and it’s also just good practice habits that ensure the integrity of what you do.

By Catherine Robertson Souter

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