1. MINDCHECK HP provides psychology services for health professionals. How can a psychologist help a health professional in the area of wellness in general? In particular how can it help a performance throughout a health care career?
A psychologist can help drive real change in the area of individual wellness. There is an intrinsic link between wellness and performance. Poor mental health can hinder performance.
A psychologist can help at both an individual and organisational level.
We assess an individual’s challenges and barriers getting in the way to their workplace wellbeing. This can allow goal identification to help develop an individualised plan.
For doctors in particular, we work in areas such as maximising performance when sitting major exams. For those in training, this is often a stressful period and lots of sacrifices are made as part of the preparation.
Workplace wellbeing is often challenged by environmental factors. It’s not just about how ‘good’ you are at your job or how ‘sufficient’ your coping ability is. Given that workplace environmental factors influence individual performance and wellbeing, psychologists can also work with health organisations and departments to foster wellness in the workplace.
A word from Úna…
A psychologist can help us see the ‘work’ wood from the trees, from a neutral perspective. Our friends and family are great supports but they generally will always want to take ‘our side’, reassure or fix things. They have their own biases in our favour! Sometimes a neutral listener, like a psychologist, can also be helpful.
2. What do you think are the advantages of being a health care professional when it comes to maintaining a general sense of occupational wellbeing?
There are many advantages to working in health care when it comes to fostering wellbeing.
It can be an incredibly rewarding role. It can be highly satisfying. There is a lot of literature out there that helping others can contribute to our personal wellbeing and positivity (1)
In health, we have the ability to create meaningful change both for our individual patients but also at a community level. There are so many avenues that allows us to connect with the meaning and purpose of our jobs. Many studies have additionally shown that finding meaning and purpose is also protective against (2, 3)
Working in health is also all about creating connection with other humans – whether it’s our patients or our colleagues. Working in healthcare is a team sport. In its purest form, our work builds collaboration, strong connection and trust with our colleagues, and our patients. This is seen in emergency medicine with flexible, changing composition of teams every shift.
3. What is it about working in health that can put health workers at increased risk of stress and mental health problems?
There is an increased vulnerability to mental health challenges in our work as Health Care professionals. This may be related to a number of factors e.g. the increased responsibility our roles have. Those that work in health generally go into that role because they want to help, make the right decisions and be compassionate 100% of the time. This responsibility can lead to us to put a lot of pressure on ourselves.
Perhaps it’s that we see all our patients when they are at their most unwell or having their worst day this year. At the very least, no matter what the patient is presenting with, they most likely do not want to be in your ED, your clinic or your cardiac cath lab.
You could also classify our work as a place where we are often exposed to human suffering and trauma. This is so different to someone working in a non-health job, and the experience of the general community. The word ‘trauma’ relates to the fact that we witness suffering and also that there is a degree of personal trauma if we make a mistake in the care of a patient.
There may also be personality factors that pre-dispose us to being at higher risk or becoming unwell as part of our work. Those working in health can be high achievers and have higher level of perfectionistic trait. The latter can in particular lead to a high degree of a self-critical cognitive component. Those traits can contribute to success in our job and are often reinforced from others. Our challenge is cultivating a balance so these characteristics don’t become our undoing.
4. What do you find are the barriers to seeking help, perhaps when a health care professional starts having issues at work like performance anxiety around an exam, a procedure or interacting with a colleague?
Stigma is still one of the biggest barriers to health professionals seeking support. There has been some increased awareness around this recently. Perhaps one of the silver linings of the COVID 19 pandemic, is that we now openly acknowledge that health care professionals need support to do their jobs well.
The second biggest barrier is fear. This fear can be multifactorial – fear of judgement from your peers, from your professional body or college, from the community at large and also, and most pervasively, from yourself. This seem to be fear of being seen as weak, incompetent, performing poorly or being just a bit unwell.
5. Finally, what you think about the concept of seeking ‘help’ from a place of wellness, rather than a place of crisis?
We need to move the conversation from not just seeking help when you are ‘sick’. When we are in crisis, most of our brain’s energy will be funnelled into our efforts at problem solving, somethings we need to do at that time. It is easier for us cognitively to achieve those extra performance goals when we are well.
Therefore, there is an amazing opportunity to have significant career growth, when you are well.
I often ask patients (who are health care professionals),” Do you want to stop developing and growing when you get to a place of stable ground? Do want to just manage your lives and careers? Or do you want to move towards thriving, as your new norm?”
A final word from Úna…
As an emergency physician who promotes wellbeing and has experienced the benefits of a psychologist in my own wellbeing, I think everyone who works in health needs a psychologist. It’s a bit like needing a GP.
In both cases, it’s about knitting your wellbeing parachute before you have to jump out (or feel pushed out) of the plane. So, when the sh*t hits the fan, we have people we know and trust to help us.
I suggest trying to create that therapeutic wellbeing relationship when you are well. There is a great opportunity to excel from a place of wellness with a psychologist’s help.
You might never experience crisis.
But if you do become unwell, you will have a psychologist on your team, in the wings, who knows you, who is able to give immediate bespoke assistance in your time of need.
MINDCHECK HP is a private enterprise. It is one of a number of psychological services available in Brisbane and beyond for health sector professionals. As such, WRaP EM does not endorse the company directly and stands no monetary gain from the above published discussions with Dr Amy Kwan.
1. Post SG. Altuism, happiness, and health: it’s good to be good. Int J Behav Med. 2005;12(2):66-77.
2. Shanafelt TD, Dyrbye LN, Sinsky C, Hasan O, Satele D, Sloan J, et al. Relationship Between Clerical Burden and Characteristics of the Electronic Environment With Physician Burnout and Professional Satisfaction. Mayo Clin Proc. 2016;91(7):836-48.
3. Shanafelt TD, Noseworthy JH. Executive Leadership and Physician Well-being: Nine Organizational Strategies to Promote Engagement and Reduce Burnout. Mayo Clin Proc. 2017;92(1):129-46.