5 minute read
Greetings, CFHA! My name is Norma Balli-Borrero, and this is my very first post as a newly minted member of the CFHA Blog Writing Team. My posts will center around being a BHC and research assistant working in Pediatrics. Some of my posts will be based on my own personal experience, while others will explore questions I am investigating as a new professional and eternal student. My interests in media and working with Latinx populations will also sprinkle in from time to time. Let us begin!
I’d like to start by looking at ways to use media to support kiddos and their families during this time of remote consultation. Pre-COVID, I was an avid giver of worksheets, as my patients well know.
Occasionally, a patient would groan at the thought of completing a worksheet with me—associating my trusty worksheet with a loathed school assignment. I would then explain to kiddo and parent that feelings, thoughts, and goals aren’t usually things we can “grab” and “look” at. Therefore, a worksheet enables us to explore these feelings in a meaningful and concrete way. My young patient would then usually nod with understanding and search through my sticker basket while I went off to print out said worksheet.
(As an aside, I was also a big fan of giving stickers at the end of visits and using the selection of sticker time to complete my documentation and print out resources. I would also ask patients why they chose their particular sticker to build rapport and get a deeper understanding of their values.)
Once I returned, we would go over the worksheet together, usually with a PDF up on my computer screen and the paper copy on a clip board for the patient to write on and highlight. After discussing the worksheet, we’d set a SMART goal, an “experiment” for the visit, and then schedule another appointment if necessary.
For the most part, the process was smooth and enjoyable, but then COVID came. And I had to figure out how to not only send my kiddos materials, but also have them engage with the materials in an effective way. At first, I emailed the worksheets, but the majority of my patients, and their parents, forgot about them. Also, most of my patient population did not own personal printers, and only a few parents were going into work and could access a printer there. All the challenges meant it was time for some “outside of the box” thinking.
I realized that rather than scour the internet for helpful “how to do behavioral health during COVID” tips, I would go straight to the source: my patients. Whether we had an initial visit or a follow-up, I would ask for more detail than the usual “what do you do for fun?” I wanted to know exactly how they have been spending their time not only individually, but also as a family.
Many patients replied that they were watching multiple streaming services, playing video games, and spending lots of time on social media. Thanks to asking for specifics, I discovered that occasionally, my patients and I would be watching the same show. I would use these unexpected commonalties as tools in our visits. Sometimes a shared video game would become a valued activity to help patient breakup the stress and monotony of online school, or the struggles of a TV show character became a way to reframe their stressful situation of griping with their family and missing their friends.
I found that checking in with the parents of my patients, even in separate calls, was extremely helpful. Indeed, many parents were frustrated by their children’s increased use of electronics and due to their own amount of stress, were unable to communicate their needs with their children in clear and helpful ways. In these instances, I would act as advocate and explain how the kids were coping, ask how the parent was coping, and work toward finding a solution that the family could do as a unit to come closer together.
While it’s impossible for me to watch every show or play every video game that’s out there, I found value in gaining a deeper understanding of how my patients are soothing themselves during this stressful time in their lives. Sometimes their choice of media offered me a glimpse into what they were needing, into how they were trying to pursue their values in the only ways that were available to them. The process of schooling and socializing has forever changed, and media has become more than just a mindless pastime; for some patients, especially the kiddos, it has become a lifeline. Better understanding what kinds of media are out there has helped me find new ways to support my patients and added a whole new set of unique tools to my BHC toolbox.
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