Members will be aware of the latest government responses to the COVID-19 virus. In brief, this involves immediately moving to level 3 of the COVID-19 Virus response (including restricted travel, mass gatherings cancelled, public venues closed, alternative ways of working required, some non-essential businesses closed, non-face-to-face primary care consultations, and elective surgery cancelled as necessary for reprioritisation) and within 48 hours moving to Level 4 (People to stay at home, educational facilities closed, all non-essential businesses closed, severe travel restrictions, a major reprioritisation of health care).
This means self-isolation for all people in NZ to stem the spread of the virus. This clearly has major ramifications for psychologists working in many settings. The list of essential services exempt from these restrictions has not been released, but it is likely that even if some psychological services are included in the exempt list, most clinical psychologists will be obligated to stop seeing clients face-to-face irrespective of whether you work in a public or a private setting.
Many people may look at moving at least some of their consultations online so they can continue contact with their clients virtually. For members who are taking this step, I would like to remind them of the NZ Psychologists Board’s document Best Practice Guideline – The Practice of Telepsychology obtainable at http://www.psychologistsboard.org.nz/resources/resources#BPG. This document is very useful for assisting us to practise online safely and effectively. Several other documents are available that may assist people to learn more about online therapy and other aspects of practising during the pandemic:
Given that immunisations take a long time to develop and the number of infected people may tax or overwhelm the capabilities of our medical system in the next few months, behaviour change at an individual and community level will be one of the most effective tools that we have to combat the virus. As psychologists, we have the opportunity to lead the necessary behaviour changes by example and to promote health-maintaining behaviour change in others.
The period of self-isolation and changes in people’s circumstances will create major stressors for many community members, and will make it more difficult for many to practice some of the “5 Ways to Wellbeing” as described by the Mental Health Foundation (Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning, & Give). Clinical psychologists hopefully will play a positive role in supporting their communities in dealing with this difficult time, both in our own communities, and through our professional contacts during the time of self-isolation.
The economic impacts of the pandemic are likely to be enormous, and may impact on psychologists along with others. Many psychologists who work in private practice, who work as contractors, or who run businesses employing others could experience a substantial income drop. If that is your situation, you may be eligible for assistance under the government’s COVID-19 income support provisions, which do cover self-employed people and contractors as well as employers. More information about this can be obtained at:
The NZCCP wishes you and your loved ones all the best for the challenges of the COVID-19 virus pandemic, the period of self-isolation, and the disruption to “psychological business as usual.” We are receptive to doing what we can to support members through this difficult time, so please be in touch.
Malcolm Stewart, President, NZCCP