By Lindsey O’Brennan, PhD, Licensed Psychologist, Morningstar Wellness
It’s 10:56 a.m. and I’m fidgeting with my makeshift desk for my first telehealth session in my new home “office” (more accurately described as our upstairs storage closet). I’m trying to get my laptop at just the right angle so the client can’t see the cardboard boxes and bins of holiday decor, old clothes, art supplies, and stuffed animals that surround me. My “desk” is a framed beach print teetering atop a small cart.
Ah, the exact ambiance of calmness I was hoping for.
It’s 11 a.m. and I take a deep breath while I am staring at my laptop waiting for my client’s face to fill my screen. About 5 minutes later, she appears with a warm smile and a friendly, awkward wave. This is new for both of us. After some brief check-ins, we settle into our typical therapist-client dialogue. That is until my two dogs start feverishly barking downstairs. Then comes the faint sound of pounding feet and whining from the dining room. My boyfriend is coaching his 1st grade son through telling time and I imagine it’s not going well, for either of them.
FOCUS Lindsey. FOCUS.
I redirect my thoughts and we start getting to the meat of the session. Just as my client starts to share her vulnerable thoughts and emotions, her face freezes on my screen. “I’m sorry, can you say that again? Oh shoot, my screen is frozen and I can’t hear you. Oh wait, you’re back! Never mind, it’s frozen again.” I can feel my heart racing faster as I move my laptop around the room hoping to get a better signal.
We disconnect and try again in the hopes of salvaging the session. We wrap up, and, miraculously, my client decides to schedule again in 2 weeks. Clearly, her experience wasn’t as painful as it was for me.
I leave the session feeling hopeless, frustrated, and bitter. This is not how I imagined doing therapy. I’m reminded of a quote from Thomas Fuller: “All things are difficult before they are easy.” I think to myself, But when will this become easy? How long will this “new normal” last? Can someone please direct me on how to successfully navigate this terrain?
Embracing change and uncertainty is something I address with all clients, yet here I am resisting it in my own life. According to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), “People suffer unnecessarily when their own psychological rigidity prevents them from adapting to internal and external contexts” (Hayes, Strosahl, and Wilson, 2012). According to the ACT model, by being open to new experiences, centered in the here-and-now, and actively engaged in their life choices, individuals are more likely to free themselves from suffering and feel more satisfied with their life.
In line with this approach, here are some activities that individuals (psychologists and clients alike) can try in order to increase their tolerance for uncertainty.
Uncertainty is one of the few things we can be certain of, perhaps now more than ever before. As we help our clients (and ourselves) navigate the new, the different, the good, the bad, and the uncertain…let’s find ways to embrace it, to learn from it, to savor it, and when all else fails, to laugh at it.