Finding Foundational Resilience in 2020 by Sandra Wartski, PsyD:

The year of 2020 has been so unprecedented in many ways and caused strain on everyone worldwide, caused most notably by COVID-19, racism, violence, natural disasters, and political tension. There are many more mental-health needs during this anxious, uncertain time when there have been documented, significant increases in distress. For psychologists in clinical, research, or teaching roles, the sudden pivot to the online way of life has also required steep learning curves, and the need has required all of us to exercise our flexibility muscles.

Psychologists are accustomed to dealing with distress, but 2020 has presented new challenges, in terms of experiencing distress personally and suddenly having to adjust to doing much of our work through screens. The virtual work has required us to face much more screen time (versus more of the live-person contact that most of us value deeply), jarring experiences of jumping onto a screen into the midst of desperate situations (rather than getting a few moments to orient to the sense of despair or tension as entering into a room), sometimes more “audience members” suddenly popping into the session (intended and not), and adjustments to the nuances of screen shifts (Was that an emotional hitch in their voice or was it a brief computer glitch? Is that a tear in their eye or is it a reflection of a sunny sky?). And trauma expert Dr. Janina Fisher has said, virtual work requires us to be more “relationally loud” and “speak to the second balcony” in ways that we haven’t had to be in the past with live interactions.

Fortunately, some benefits have also been uncovered during this difficult time; in fact, part of building resilience is orienting to the positives as much as possible in order to find balance. One client, for example, whose depression often kept her from leaving her home noted several months into the pandemic, “I am no longer attracted to my sofa,” and is now actively choosing ways to be more engaged in life, reinforcing the power of paradox. Another client who had previously been avoiding direct work on many of her significant symptoms reframed the quarantine in her own creative way: “Being quarantined and not being distracted by my usual daily drama is kind of like being in a hospital. I can prioritize focusing on my recovery, and I have to really dig into my goals!” The highlighting of decades-long oppression in certain segments of our population has prompted some individuals to develop a broader outlook and to explore ways to attend to important work beyond their previously narrowly focused concerns. Even children can take optimistic perspective shifts, such as the poignant reflection from a 12-year old: “At least we don’t have to be silent” (comparing herself to Anne Frank and the quarantine’s requirement that she be home but not quiet).

Similarly, our five Foundation committees have also had to pivot to different ways of working during 2020, and we are proud to report that each one of these is thriving in this new and different time. 

The Disaster Response Network (DRN) has been especially active during this pandemic, with the very popular Hope4Healers program continuing to provide brief, probono emotional support for healthcare workers and expanding to include school personnel and their families. (Click here to read the full press release.) Nearly 100 psychologists and other mental health professionals have volunteered to respond, and several interventions have been successfully accomplished. We are also pleased to announce that the DHHS SAMSHA grant for Hope4Healers was approved, giving NCPF some much needed financial support for the staff time involved in running the program. Thank you to our dedicated chairpersons, Drs. Andy Short and Tatyana Kholodkov, for responding so diligently to the community’s needs.

Like most clinicians, our Continuing Education Committee has had to move its offerings to a virtual format in a very short period of time. Because 2020 is the year of license renewal for psychologists, more offerings were already scheduled prior to the pandemic. Spring Conference, Fall Conference, and six Practice Check-Ups (now being taught by Dr. Susan Hurt and Executive Director Martha Turner-Quest) were all successfully offered via Zoom at greatly reduced prices. New features being offered through the CE Committee are the Lunchtime Learning series on the 3rd Thursday of each month from 12 to 1 PM via Zoom and the upcoming Virtual Exhibit Hall. Dr. Catherine Forneris continues to lead the very active, dedicated CE committee. New committee members are always welcome to join.

The Public Education Committee (PEC) is being re-energized and is now under new leadership with Chairperson Dr. Susan Orenstein. PEC is seeking interested psychologists to join her in developing new goals and directions for this branch of the Foundation. Some of the ideas being explored include a media series to highlight North Carolina psychologists and consultation teams related to issues of diversity. Other recent PEC-related pursuits include an increased presence on NCPA’s social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) and maintenance of the “Coping with COVID-19” video library (which now has over 40 brief videos) offering a wide variety of topics from a number of mental health professionals, still available for viewing and sharing. PEC also continues to explore ways of being more visible in the community for various mental-health awareness campaigns, such as NAMI Walks and Walk for Hope.

Scientific, Academic, and Student Affairs Committee (SASA) flexed its resilience muscles and offered the ever popular Undergrad Conference in a virtual format on November 7, 2020. This invaluable experience for students interested in psychology careers has been instrumental for hundreds of students for over two decades. Co-chairs Drs. Terra Rose and John Parsley note that there will not be an opportunity for small-group leaders from different facets of psychology to meet with students this year, but they hope to have that important segment of the conference back when we can again meet in person. SASA is also exploring how to increase undergraduate-graduate student and academic departments’ involvement in NCPA and NCPF.

The Development Committee is led by Dr. Landy Anderton who is pleased to report that NCPF met its fundraising goal for the year, thanks to many generous donors, repeat donors, matching gift donors, and one anonymous large donor. The unusual circumstances of 2020 resulted in an unusually rigorous period of editing of the Friends of the Foundation appeals; these are different times. The sale of the NCPF Lucy Inman Conference room was necessary and helpful, but we still need long-term solutions. The committee continues to explore ideas about expanding our fundraising efforts to non-member donors and finding other creative methods of funding our NCPF mission, such as grants and organizational collaborations. Ideas, networking connections, and additional committee members are always welcome.

The Finance Committee is a sixth committee to highlight, straddling both NCPA and NCPF in its responsibility. Treasurer Dr. Amanda Seavey is actually a member of the NCPA and the NCPF boards, working behind the scenes with the Finance Committee to balance our budgets and attend to all things financial. Our organization faces financial challenges every year, but 2020 added the new dues structure, real-estate sale, grants, scholarships, and attempted organizational simplification to the mix of tasks.

The year of 2020 has certainly involved the need to tap into personal and professional resilience skills. We, psychologists, have been forced to shift for ourselves and our families, students, clients, and communities. Our NCPF committees have similarly pivoted and are adjusting to the new normal for now. The notion of post-traumatic growth, coined by Charlotte-based psychologists Drs. Rich Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, is real and is happening. And like the tenacity of trees seen thriving in the most difficult of circumstances, we too can find ways to adjust and to adapt.

We thank you for your ongoing support of NCPF!