By Dr. Sharon L. Bowman
Normally I start out wishing folks a happy Fall. I don’t know if I can even do that this time. Let’s just go with I hope you are staying safe and protecting yourselves during this roller coaster ride that has become 2020. Two more months, and then…well, who knows what.
The year started with a variety of social (in)justice concerns, on the local, national, and even international level. In every case, I’ve watched people who don’t normally speak up and speak out do so on behalf of something they found worth fighting for. Whether you like it or not, many of you have become change agents, championing something for the good of your selves, your families, your clients, your peers.
It isn’t what you believe in that counts, it is that you believe in something—and you use your power to make it work. I am aware of the diversity of opinions throughout the department; that diversity is what makes us exciting, but definitely sometimes creates some tension. If we can’t figure out how to manage ourselves professionally here, we will have a heck of time doing it with clients and others in the real world.
As if that wasn’t enough, then we had the pleasure of COVID. When I mentioned this in the Spring, I really didn’t understand or comprehend that it would still be controlling our lives come Fall (and on for the foreseeable future). Here we are eight months later; consider the aspects of our work and personal lives that have changed. We still can’t do official international travel, as per Ball State’s rules (though a lot of us don’t want to get on a plane right now anyway). From late March until early July, I was only in my campus office three times. I still have faculty members and students who I haven’t seen in person since mid-March. Being in the building right now, well even being on campus, feels like a slightly busy Summer school session. I can be in the building on a Friday and not see another human. And, well, the humans I do see are wearing masks as a new fashion statement. I’m teaching a main campus class, and I am afraid that I may not recognize most of the students without their masks on. COVID has changed how we teach (online or on campus).
What have we learned? First, we see that face-to-face research is much more vulnerable than anyone would have thought. Several dissertation and thesis projects fell by the wayside as a result of our lockdown. This year will shape how we do research and the topics of our research, for the foreseeable future.
Second, we have quickly learned to teach via online methods, and some of us have become very adept at methods of distance education. It is one thing to just start teaching via Zoom as a substitute for main campus teaching, and quite another to learn how to adroitly maneuver video, PowerPoints, extra content, and discussion groups to create a compelling course.
Third, we have learned that we CAN do telehealth, or telemental health, or telemedicine—take your choice in terminology. Honestly, most of us doing therapy has to do a fast pivot to prepare for seeing clients on-screen or via phone. Truth be told, I miss seeing clients in person, but I reluctantly accede that there are significant advantages of this model for some clients.
Finally, we have learned how to survive isolation, although it has challenged the best of us. Choose one (or more): books read, projects completed, new talents discovered, weird pet photos posted, houses cleaned, yardwork done, or new shows binge-watched. I’ve commented before that my introverted self has been pushed to want to physically see some friendly faces. This may give us a new understanding of the experiences of our clients who live isolated lives on a regular basis.
These are exciting, and scary, times for people in our professions. Research in a variety of areas is needed, but accessing potential participants is a challenge. Advocacy is needed, as we are seeing challenges to health, mental health, social justice, you name it. Career counseling is crucial as the job market and workforce are being shaped by this new normal. Mental health needs are going through the roof; the isolation, the stress, the financial concerns, and the losses (of people, livelihood, and property) is truly taking a toll. On top of all of this, there are all manner of governmental challenges happening that affect colleges, student loans, research opportunities, insurance, and the ability to practice (e.g., the affordability of mental health, the availability of telehealth). Never doubt that you are needed in the field; someone has to do this work.