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Five tips for balancing parenting and virtual practice

Psychologists who are running their practice from home offer advice on work/life balance during the pandemic.

Cite this
Clay, R. A. (2020, October 28). Five tips for balancing parenting and virtual practice.

Mother and kids sitting at a table doing work

Even as schools and daycare centers begin to open up in some areas, the COVID-19 pandemic is still creating challenges for working parents. And the nature of the work psychologists do—the need for privacy and intense concentration, for example—makes juggling family life and working from home even more challenging, practitioners say.

“I told my family that because of a law, I couldn’t be interrupted when I was talking with patients,” says Samantha Marks, PsyD, a psychologist in private practice in Parkland, Florida, and mother of three. That invocation of the privacy law impressed the kids, says Marks, but she has still been interrupted during sessions two times because of her children’s minor accidents. And that’s okay, says Marks.

“There’s just no way to get everything working perfectly with work and kids and lockdown and the pandemic: We’re just doing the best we can,” she says. “I’m just very glad that nobody has appeared on camera without pants!”

To help balance your psychology practice with your home life during the pandemic, Marks and other psychologists suggest these tips:

Be flexible with scheduling

Marks leaves extra time between patient sessions instead of having sessions back to back. These little breaks allow her to check on her children. “And just in case you’re interrupted and have to step away for five minutes for some reason, you have a little time to make it up,” she says. Marks extends the same courtesy to patients, temporarily doing away with no-show and late-cancellation fees in recognition that everyone is facing challenges right now.

Experiment to find what works best

When it comes to scheduling while working from home, be prepared to change things up as needed, says Mary Beth Covert, PsyD, ABPP, a private practitioner in Pittsford, New York, and mother to a first- and third-grader. When the pandemic began, Covert spread her client sessions throughout the week; now she clusters all her appointments in two and a half days per week. “What works best changes,” she says. “I picture myself trying to be light on my feet and just keeping my feet moving.”

Change your expectations

During the pandemic, it has been easy to let go of some things, such as keeping your home immaculate or saying you would limit screen time for your kids. Other losses are harder to accept, says Ann Aspnes, PhD, ABPP, who leads a Maryland group practice called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy of Columbia. Having started her practice in 2017, Aspnes had been anticipating growing her business. Now she has given up her suite of offices and is working many fewer hours so that she can supervise her three young children. “It’s definitely a hiccup in terms of where I thought my business was going,” she says. While that’s a disappointment, she is enjoying the time with her boys. “What I say to myself is, ‘I still have a lot of time left in terms of my career,’” she says. “My goals may be delayed, but they’re not gone.”

Share your challenges with your patients

While it’s obviously important to keep the focus on your patients, it’s okay to let them know that you’re facing—and weathering—the same kind of challenges they’re confronting. “I’m very upfront with clients,” says Jonathan Jenkins, PsyD, who runs a Brookline, Massachusetts, private practice called Mental Fitness and Psychotherapy in addition to being a clinical psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. Patients may hear Jenkins’s two-year-old son laughing loudly. Or Jenkins might have to step out for a moment to check that everything’s okay after a loud bang. “It’s an opportunity to see me as more of a person,” he says. In meetings with colleagues, he’ll even let his two-year-old son pop on to Zoom and say hi. “It gives my son a better understanding of what I’m doing,” says Jenkins. “And it cuts the ice in meetings.”

Seek support

Hire help if you can afford it and feel safe having someone watch your kids. Ask for help from your spouse or partner, family members, friends, neighbors, and anyone else who can provide support, even if it’s just virtually. And lean on your colleagues for support. Some state psychological associations offer virtual get-togethers, such as Zoom happy hours. Or you could put together an informal consultation group of colleagues who are juggling practice and parenting and who can offer advice or just commiserate.

For Aspnes, a consultation group helps her remember to prioritize self-care during this stressful time. “Because we’re psychologists, we want to make things better, but everyone is in the same soup of stress with the pandemic,” says Aspnes. “One thing that comes up frequently in my consultation group is the importance of being really kind to ourselves.” 

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