PhDr. Lucie Skalíková: Humans are characterized by a high degree of adaptability

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19. 12. 2022 Psychology

Due to the seemingly neverending series of unfortunate events in recent years, people are having to reach deep into their psychological reserves. The good news is that many have learned to offset some of the negative influences to a relatively high degree. Head of psychology, psychiatry and speech therapy at Canadian Medical, psychologist Lucie Skalíková, advises on how and when to seek out professional help for you and your loved ones.

We have been dealing with bad news and horrible events on a regular basis for the past three years. How are we coping with them?

Times have indeed been very challenging for a great deal of people. We were hoping that after the pandemic subsided,  things would be better, but more bad news was around the corner, such as the war in Ukraine and its consequences, which brought a lot of uncertainty and fear of the future. On the other hand, going through the experience of the pandemic has given everyone certain preparation for the extremes. It has shown us that all disasters come to an end and that we have it in us to make a difference, to reduce our comfort and standard of living for the benefit of others. Humans are generally highly adaptable and can cope with excessive stress.  A lot of people have built up coping strategies more or less successfully. For example, limiting our daily intake of bad news, devoting more time to family, active exercise, and dealing with emotions. It is still true, however, that people who are already weakened for one reason or another, react more sensitively to bad news and events, and are more receptive to stressors, which therefore have a more destructive impact on them.

What about the kids?

They have been greatly affected by the pandemic - the period of school closures and the general disruption of their daily activities has generally had a huge impact on their psychological state. We are seeing a high increase in anxiety disorders and depression among children and adolescents, including those who were previously without problems. Children are very sensitive to imbalances in their environment, their primary family, and peer groups. They are affected by the problems of their parents and friends, despite their best efforts to shield them from these problems. I know from experience that many teachers have not handled the situation well either. When the children finally returned to school, the schools started overloading them with lots of exams and tests to "catch up" on grades and classification. In many places, under the guise of the need to acquire and test the prescribed knowledge, we have missed the important concern for the mental health of our children. Children went from one stressful situation to another without the necessary time to recover and process what was happening to them and around them.

States such as sadness, nervousness, bad mood and anger are quite common, especially nowadays. But when are such feelings over the edge?

If you or your loved ones have been experiencing these symptoms for several weeks, it is definitely a good idea to address the situation with a professional.

What are the first steps when seeking out professional help? 

You can turn to psychologists or psychotherapists. Professional societies provide a list of professionals, where you can always access information on their specialisations and area of expertise. However, for clinical psychologists and psychiatrists who have a contract with an insurance company, availability is very limited. Waiting times of months or even a halt in accepting new clients is unfortunately expected. However, patients should know that if their situation is really serious, they can turn to crisis centres such as the Crisis Psychiatric Centre at PL Bohnice, RIAPS, and Children's Crisis Centre. These facilities also run helplines which usually operate 24/7.

What is the most helpful advice for people nowadays?

Not to get overwhelmed by bad news, to learn to defend one's personal space, to separate work life and personal life and to perceive all of these parts of life as equally important. The great essence of psychotherapeutic work is to work with patients' thoughts and preconceived perceptions of themselves and others. We often create scenarios and falsifications which add to the pressures that time and our surroundings put on us, creating inadequate and permanent stress. For example, many people feel that unless they work well beyond their working hours, they are not good professionals and suffer from feelings of guilt and failure. However, we know that if an athlete wants to perform at the top of their capabilities for a long time, they cannot achieve this without adequate recovery and rehabilitation. Time spent on mental well-being is a sign of a professional attitude. This attitude should, of course, also be applied to those around us, whether they are family, colleagues or subordinates. A simple example of this is respecting working hours, rest time, and illness.

And what about our approach to children?

It is important to provide them with an environment that's as stable, comprehensible, and supportive as possible. Try to put yourself first in disputes. It's not about "clearing the path" and completely eliminating obstacles and feelings of frustration. The obstacles that the children do face, should be appropriate to their developmental period, when they are learning to postpone meeting their needs in favour of a longer-term goal, learning to function among peers, learning to tolerate rejection or not succeeding in, say, sports. But it is not their job, for example, to mediate and protect one parent against another.

The field of psychology and especially psychiatry is facing a major shortage of professionals. What do you see as the main problem? Is it the remuneration, the difficulty of studying, or the demanding nature of the profession?

I think it's a combination of everything you mention. Education is far from ending with graduation from university, and a complete psychotherapy education comes with considerable financial demands. In addition, the psychological burden in this profession is really high, which people often don't realize. A psychiatrist's or psychologist's outpatient clinic cannot treat the same number of patients per day as another medical field. It is not for nothing that burnout syndrome has been described so often in this profession. The human stories of our clients often leave an impact, no matter how we continue to work with them. Above all, I think the field of psychiatry still evokes to some extent a sense of the unknown, the abstract- not only for the public but also for medical students.

Do you see any solution to this crisis?

I’m not exactly an expert on the training system for psychologists and psychiatrists. However, I do know that the field is struggling with financial inaccessibility for clients, which more contract psychologists would solve. Then one has to wonder if the rules for awarding contracts are too strict, or if working with insurance companies is so burdened with paperwork that many qualified colleagues don't even enter into negotiations with them.

In addition to caring for clients, you also manage a team of psychiatrists, psychologists and speech therapists. What do they need to work well?

I've been in the role for only a short amount of time so far, we are still building a team to cover as wide a range of issues and ages of our clients as possible. What is important to me is that my colleagues feel that we are working together towards a common cause, that they are part of the team, that they are respected as experts and that their opinion is just as important as that of others. I am here to ensure that they have the right working conditions, equipment and are adequately compensated for their work. I want to share our ideas, difficulties, and news or just provide an open environment to discuss professional difficulties. The advantage is that we have a strong company behind us and we have the support of the management. I want my team to know this as well.

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