In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and hospitals filled with coronavirus patients, the Canadian Psychological Association recruited its members to volunteer their services to frontline healthcare workers.
UWindsor professor Ben Kuo answered the call.
He is one of more than 200 psychologists across Canada who will receive the John C. Service Member of the Year Award for helping with the telehealth service, “Psychology works for COVID-19.”
“We were all trying to do our part,” says Dr. Kuo. “The clients who worked with me reflected the waves of this pandemic.
“At the beginning it was crisis management and nurses talked about not having personal protective equipment for the longest time. That was a huge concern, a direct safety concern at work.”
As time went on, clients raised issues of trauma on the job and discrimination at home.
“The public talked about honouring frontline workers, but at home, especially if they rented, they faced discrimination,” he explains. “People were suspicious that they would bring disease home.”
Kuo volunteered through February, then had to step away due to other obligations.
“Now I expect they are starting to talk about the grieving process,” he says. “Having gone through trauma, they are now reflecting back on the tough decisions, perhaps feeling strained and exhausted.”
The counselling and psychotherapy services provided a safe place for frontline healthcare workers where they could express their emotions and not have to worry about letting anyone down.
“Counselling was the space for them to say this has been tough and I need this outlet, this professional support,” says Kuo. “These nurses had chosen their careers because they wanted to help people. But being a helper makes it very difficult to ask for help.”
Kuo is a clinical psychologist specializing in mental health therapy and intervention with culturally diverse client populations, many of whom have experienced trauma and extreme stress. He teaches undergraduate students interview techniques and basic counselling skills.
A central point is to allow clients to be really heard and deeply understood. He tells students it is about listening and deeply understanding the client’s experience, and says helping workers in the trenches of the pandemic fight was empowering.
“At a time when there was little we could do, I was able to at least do my part to put a little tiny dent in this COVID thing,” says Kuo. “And it truly was an honour. That’s what drove me to become a psychologist and a psych professor.”
Update: Other members of the University of Windsor psychology department volunteered with the telehealth service Psychology works for COVID-19 over the past year. Profs Annette Dufresne, Josée Jarry, and Dana Ménard also provided free counselling to frontline healthcare workers and shared in the John C. Service Member of the Year Award from the Canadian Psychological Association.
The association will confer the awards June 9 at its national convention, which will be held online.