How a Psychotherapist Does Her Job Through Zoom During Quarantine
In our Day in the Quarantine Life series, we’re chatting with Canadians about their new normal, exploring how they organize their days and balance their home lives with work obligations. Here, Lisa Brookman, a psychotherapist in Montreal, shares how she does her job from home and what's troubling her clients during the pandemic.
I wake up to my Bernese Mountain Dog licking my face and poking his nose into my nose to tell me he needs to go out to do his pee. I take both my dogs outside and play with them. It starts my day off on such a positive note—with that brisk cold air and the sunshine. It’s so invigorating. It snowed the entire day yesterday, so everything’s white again.
I’m a mom of three teenagers. I co-own a psychotherapy/psychology private clinic in Montreal called West Island Therapy and Wellness Centre with my husband, who’s a child psychologist.
Pre-quarantine, I’d wake up at 6 a.m., get to my office at 7:30 a.m. and not finish until 6:30 p.m., run home, make supper, look at homework, and connect with the kids. I was feeling like I had a lot on my plate. I was trying figure out how I could have better work-life balance. Then all this hit. We packed up everything, including all our office stuff, and headed up to our cottage up north. It’s our favourite place on earth. So, my lifestyle has changed significantly since being in the city. I’m still working as much, but I’ve shifted my priorities.
I do a FaceTime workout session with my trainer from Montreal. I’m not always super motivated to work out, so I asked him to do virtual workouts with me. We do them three mornings a week, 45 minutes a day.
He gives me exercises to do using my body weight. I’ve been able to maintain my physical fitness. Two of my kids also do the workouts with me, so it’s a family-style workout!
I jump right into the shower, get quickly dressed, and put on some make up. I make sure the kids are organized for the virtual classes since all three of them still have school, then I grab my huge Starbucks water tumbler, and I get settled for my sessions with my clients.
I check my phone. My friends and family make fun of me because I don’t look at my phone until now, when I’m sitting at my desk. I’ll quickly look at social media and see if I have cancellations for the day.
I do psychotherapy sessions over Zoom with my clients. They’re 50 minutes each.
Six weeks ago, if you had mentioned me doing Zoom chats for psychotherapy, I would not have jumped on the opportunity. But now, I’m working almost full-time with all my clients on Zoom, so this has opened up a huge opportunity for me to support my clientele away from the office. I felt that, at my office, I provided a safe and nurturing space, so it was important that my clients came to me. I’ve realized people can feel safe in a virtual situation—in their own space, from their bed or on their sofa. Some clients go into their car or go out for a walk for the session to achieve the level of privacy they want in their space when everyone’s home.
My clients are feeling overwhelmed being at home. There are a lot of new issues that’ve come up in therapy that I haven’t seen before. About 70 percent of my clients are focused on Covid-19—the uncertainties, the anxiety, and I’m seeing some obsessive compulsive disorders. Some people are having their mental health issues exasperated. People keep asking me when do I foresee this being over. The unknown of the future seems to be very preoccupying for people. They want to know when things will go back to normal. So, I provide them with some cognitive behavioural techniques, and some mindfulness to help them cope.
Other clients aren’t focused on Covid-19 at all and are focused on trying to improve their relationship—how to improve communication with their partner, how to build relationships with their kids. They’re taking a proactive approach to their relationship. So, some people are using therapy strategically for evolution and growth, while others are using it almost as a bit of crisis intervention.
There’s this interesting phenomenon: I have clients that have anxiety disorders that are not at all taken aback or upset by the situation. They’ve been able to manage it well and are dealing with small things like their partner is normally very neat and their home is upside down. It’s nice, for them, to have something less dramatic to focus on! It’s harder for people who are in an anxious state and aren’t used to being anxious.
Other people are very concerned about their level of productivity. They have a lot of guilt and shame about not being able to work as independently and strategically as they would in their office. They have a bit of imposter syndrome. They’re worried their bosses will find out they’re not working optimally. I tell them we need to allow ourselves to deal with what’s happening, know that we might not be at our best, and that’s okay. Issues about self-worth and self-compassion have been coming up a lot.
I break for lunch, which I did in my office also, as I’m a big promoter of people taking lunch breaks. I think it’s really important for our mental wellness—to have a break and eat something. To have a change of pace.
My kids, my husband, and I take the same break. My boys start the lunch and get everything organized. We eat together, it’s a quick lunch.
We have grilled cheese and cut up vegetables. We’re relying on comfort food! After we eat, we separate and get into our afternoon routine.
I continue with sessions with clients, and I have an afternoon treat. Once a week, my middle son bakes oatmeal raison cookies, and in the mid-afternoon, he brings my husband a coffee with oatmeal cookies and brings me oatmeal cookies. We really look forward to it!
Back to work. Staring at myself in a Zoom session makes me very aware of my grey hair. I’m looking forward to getting my hair colour done again.
I finish work and take some time to clear my head and ground myself again. I go for a walk with one of my sons, and we play with the dogs outside.
Before quarantine, my car ride home from work was a really important time for me to decompress. So now, when I finish work, I make sure I still have that time. I also urge my clients to take a few minutes after their session to decompress, before joining the family or getting back to work, since they don’t have the commute home from my office.
I start cooking. I was always a big cook and baker, but over the years, I lost my motivation. I’d come home from work so late, and I’d often ask my husband to pick something up for dinner or we’d order in. Since the quarantine, I’ve gotten my joy back. I cook with the kids, and it’s been really exhilarating for me. I have a new love for cooking and baking again.
I’m making stir-fry with tofu. It’s a staple in my house. We eat a lot of vegetables. Two of my kids are vegetarian.
I’m baking a lot more too. I find it really relaxing. There are a lot of studies that show baking is really good for mental wellness. It helps people relax and makes their creative juices run. I’ve made a lot of banana cake and chocolate chip cookies. Things that remind my kids of childhood, and what I would make when they were kids.
We play What Do You Meme, the family edition, while we eat dinner. We always play games when we’re eating. We love them. We love to laugh and decompress from our day.
While my kids and husband clean up, I review my files to prepare for tomorrow’s sessions.
I FaceTime my sister, and then I put my phone away, which I do at this time every night. If there’s anything important, they’ll call or text me through my husband.
We hang out and watch TV. I just started A Million Little Things. It shines a lot of light on mental health, and I’m really enjoying it.
By 9:30 p.m., I get drowsy. My husband settles the house and gets the dog ready, while I do a face scrub and a Laneige face mask and lip mask and get to bed ready for my skin to relax during the night.
The pandemic has thrown us a lot of curveballs, but it’s allowed me to see my profession in a new light—to pivot to doing online sessions and offer my services across Canada.
On a personal level, the family time has been wonderful. Having kids that are 18, 16, and 15, I was really nearing the empty ness. This time is a gift I didn’t foresee. Living under the same roof, it brings me back to the time when they were younger. I’m really cherishing it.
This has been so impactful. I don’t think I’ll go back to the way things were. My priorities have shifted. I’ll have to re-evaluate the things that are important, like spending time with my family, and the things that aren’t so important. Plus, being home all day has had such a positive impact on our pet. My dogs have never been happier!
As told to Renée Reardin