Lunar New Year, Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras in the same week? The celebration possibilities were endless! My husband and I are overloaded with chocolate: I bought a box for him he ordered a different box for me, and a friend sent us a box of the most exquisite little orbs of chocolate. I’m not complaining, just commenting.
CPSY celebrated Lunar New Year by hosting our first virtual doctoral program interview day. The magic of bringing people together from all over the U.S., well, all over the world, and having almost no glitches was amazing over the course of the day. All thanks to Dr. Ashley Hutchison and her right-hand assistant, Julian Sanchez, for bringing it all together. Now we get to sit on our hands and wait until the new cohort accepts our offer. This part is a true test of our patience.
A week later, and it was time for doctoral internship matches. Doctoral students already on internship are job hunting and finishing dissertations. In addition, masters students who have applied for doctoral programs are waiting for answers. Everyone else is just trying to keep their heads above water—students, staff and faculty alike.
A year ago, we were just beginning to watch our world shut down. At the beginning of March 2020, Ball State started sending out warning signals, and by mid-month the pandemic plan went into effect. By month’s end, the majority of students had been sent home, and most faculty and staff were also working from home. Most of us were not prepared for a virtual existence, and we had to quickly adapt to using Microsoft Teams, Skype, and Zoom. It still didn’t seem real, though; I remember telling my class that we would be going virtual within the next week and would not see each other for the rest of the semester. One student immediately asked if they could get together for study groups and the like. Well, no. We were just not prepared for this. Internet access got tested in ways we didn’t know possible, and we overstocked on the “necessities” like toilet paper, flour, and alcohol.
At the same time, the training clinic shut down. We couldn’t see clients face-to-face, and most people didn’t want to do so anyway for fear of spreading the virus. Students in external practicum sites, master’s internships, or collecting data in face-to-face settings were suddenly frozen. People were frustrated, of course; research projects were severely inconvenienced. There was a strong concern that clients were being abandoned, and future licensure applications might be affected. No one knew how this was all going to work out. But in our craziest dreams, I don’t think we expected it to continue beyond June.
Here we are, though, a year later. Still masking up and social distancing, still doing telehealth in the clinic and in many of our external sites, still holding classes via Zoom or asynchronously. There are faculty and students I have not physically seen in nearly a year, and new students I haven’t met at all. This is NOT what I signed up for, and I bet most of you would agree with me. I taught face-to-face in the Fall, and we had several discussions about what we expected from the semester and the year. You all purposely chose main campus training programs, and now you are getting a hybrid education. Some may wonder when we will return to “normal,” especially in relation to clinical work. Much of Indiana, and Ball State specifically, remain mostly virtual. No more than 40% of classes are face-to-face this year and even those are blended.
I’ve heard some rumblings about our decision to remain mostly virtual—how can we train students to work with clients if we don’t let you be in the same room with them? How do we get a quality experience in the classroom if we never leave our home office/bedroom/kitchen table? A year ago, if you had asked me about doing this virtual thing for a YEAR I would have never believed it. It has been a year since I had an in-person clinical session; when I saw my client in-person last week I almost didn’t know what to do. Remember that the decision to do F2F or virtual interactions is complicated. Not only do we have to worry about the health of people directly in the room, but by extension their families and others with whom they come in contact. Some of our classes are probably better suited to being F2F, sure, but that decision is not mine to make.
I have empathy for those who are frustrated with the delay in returning to an open world, but I also feel for the people still feeling cautious. In any case, we have learned to be resilient and resourceful. We read faces and body language in a very different way when we can only see people from the shoulders up. We deftly manage sudden technology snags, and show grace with the appearance of random kids and pets and parents in camera range. Telehealth and tele-education are here to stay; I don’t see us going back to a solely in-person existence. I suspect the better trained you are to do the “tele” version the more competent you will be with in-person work. Someone is going to have to do a research study on that!
If you are as Zoom-tired as I am, find something else to do that does not require an electronic device. Pick up a board game or a puzzle, or find a good book. Take that random pet for a walk or a run (yes, I have seen cats on a leash). Oh, here’s a good one—actually TALK to that other human in your house! And if you need something to listen to, try this TED Radio Hour presentation on gratitude by A. J. Jacobs, “What’s the Power of a Simple Thank-you?”
Sharon L. Bowman, Ph.D., HSPP, ABPP, LMHC
Professor and Chair
Counseling Psychology, Social Psychology, and Counseling