Covid-19 Story Series: Catherine faces a new work reality

Covid-19 has affected the work of people all over the world and for our partners working in the field of mental health the virus has posed unique challenges. Therapeutic communities, such as the Omada Adolescent Neuropsychiatric Residential Community in Milan, thrive on human interaction. Omada is home to 10 girls between the ages of 12 and 17 whose mood and personality disorders benefit tremendously from an in-person collaborative-therapeutic approach. With several months of lockdown quickly becoming the new reality, the girls remained at Omada with a team of educators, nurses, and other support staff, while the team of psychotherapists began online and telephone sessions in compliance with the national containment measures. Several core activities such as psychotherapies, parental support, participation in the weekly team meetings, and collaboration with other public services all became virtual.
Catherine, a psychotherapist with Omada, shared with us her own personal struggle in making the shift:

“Before these times, I had been observing online psychology from a distance, following its developments in literature, when suddenly I found myself in need of replacing live meetings with patients and colleagues with calls and video calls. Many details typical of human contact such as the smells and perfumes, the movements of the body, the posture, the subtle changes in the tone of voice, all useful information that enrich communication and allow me to do my job better have been supplanted by a cold screen.”

The difficulty of online modes of communication (or therapeutic interventions) are many; the unreliability of a third instrument, the fear of losing information during a temporary loss of connection, and the lack of ability to read body language. But, for Catherine, the most serious difficulty was linked to the impossibility of continuing Omada’s consolidated method of rehabilitative work. In fact, Omada is particularly attentive to the rehabilitative course on an individual level as the ultimate aim is to reintegrate patients back into their communities. In order to do this, Omada plans activities in and outside the home that enable experimentation with new adaptive emotional and behavioral approaches. Unfortunately, Covid-19 has greatly altered the duration of these healing projects and to date, uncertainty surrounds the possibility of reopening.

However, while the virus has severed the physical link between each girl and her supportive network, it has not deterred them from their individual paths to recovery. Catherine emphasized that she and her colleagues carried out essential psychological work throughout the lockdown. All patients participated in new online interventions with enthusiasm and each benefited from different forms of psychological support based on their individual needs. She added her belief that the team at Omada had managed together to transform the emergency situation into a precious opportunity for young patients to stop and reflect on themselves, increasing their sense of personal responsibility and autonomy.

Lastly, Catherine and her colleagues learned lessons along the way, namely how to work collaboratively from a distance. The presence of a psychologist via video calls twice a day during the daily shift change between staff living on the premises with the girls, encouraged greater communication amongst the team. It also avoided fragmentation of rehabilitative work and allowed for an uninterrupted stream of supportive services to the girls. Through such cooperation and with patience, the team actually attained a greater shared way of working. Catherine stressed, “These are lessons we learned in times of need and that we will take with us beyond the emergency.”

“Certainly, all this required extraordinary energy. Looking back on it today, as I write these lines, I still wonder how we managed to get through such difficult moments. The only answer I can give myself is: working together. After all, this is the meaning of the Greek word Omada.” -Catherine