What a child psychologist does in a day’s work

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Welcome to The Work Day, a series that chronicles a single day in the professional lives of diverse women – from gallerists to stay-at-home parents to CEOs. In this episode, we hear from Stephanie Wolf, a child psychologist who recorded a day at work in July.

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Location: washington d.c.

Job title: Child and Forensic Psychologist, Maven Psychology Group

Previous jobs: Partner/Co-Founder, Maven Psychology Group; Adjunct Professor, University of Maryland (2018-2020; 2021); Adjunct Professor, George Washington University (2020); Clinical Supervisor, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (2020-2021); Mental Health Director and Psychologist, Maryland Child Advocacy Center (2014-2020); associate attorney, DeHay & Elliston (2002-2003).

Which led me to my current position: As a child, I was a sensitive soul. As early as kindergarten, I had so many strong feelings. I grew into adulthood and remember those experiences very well. I realized it was a special skill: many adults don’t remember their childhood in detail, but I do.

After working as a camp counselor and in a kindergarten, I discovered that I also enjoyed spending time with children. Finding a vocation in which I can work with children was a no-brainer, but to what extent was a journey.

My journey to becoming a psychologist involved A LOT of wrong turns. However, after becoming a lawyer, I realized that I enjoyed the emotional aspects of issues much more than the legal fights. I took early retirement from law school, corrected my classes, and entered a doctoral program in clinical child psychology.

After gaining enough skills and experience, I was ready to create my own perfect job: opening my own practice. Creating Maven Psychology with Dr. Jenna Calton has allowed me to do everything I love, including therapy, assessment, expert witness work, adjunct teaching, clinical training, and even the ability to co – create a non-profit organization.

How I spend most of my day: I spend my day interacting with people (in person, by phone or via Zoom). I have interactions with children, parents, schools, lawyers and other mental health professionals.

I can play with toys during the day. I also spend time writing reports, reviewing legal documents, writing patient notes, sending emails, and researching research to help with everything I do.

Inevitably, as a small business owner, I end up doing weird tasks like “Oh no, we need more trash bags” or “Yuck, the sink is leaking.”

Note: Gender, age, and patient information have been anonymized.

6:30 a.m.: I wake up to my alarm clock, look at the time and smile happily because I don’t need to wake up for another hour! Yes, I put it on a good hour in advance for the joy of falling back to sleep. Do not judge.

7:30 a.m.: I smell the coffee. Wake up. Listen to the husband move. Two minutes later, he arrives with a steaming cup of “the elixir of life”. We have our daily drink and chat.

7:40 a.m.: Check work emails. There’s a note from a director of a local daycare about a traumatic incident that happened the night before. She asks if I can take the time to give advice on how to handle the situation.

I answer a few more emails. Lie down, read the newspaper, check social media, and get out of bed at 8:30 a.m.

8:30 a.m.: I jump out of bed and walk to my closet. Great moment of decision. What to wear? I reflect on my day. I have an in person therapy session with a 6 year old boy who loves to sit on the floor and play Legos. That means it’s pants day. I also have a new patient that I have only met once. This is an 8 year old girl who was super excited to see the jar of “glitter” in my office. She told me she loves glitter, so I thought about wearing my sparkly shoes for our second shoot today. Finally, I notice a consultation with a lawyer. It means I want to look a bit more professional. I choose a blazer.

Then I head to the kitchen to grab some food for later. I usually don’t eat breakfast. I get my usual – yogurt, bubble drinks (Spindrifts and Coke Zeros), Pirate’s Booty (I eat like a kid too), granola bar and cheese.

I then order my Starbucks of the day, an iced latte, and an iced tea (yes, that’s a hassle, even though I call it “self-care”).

9:10 a.m.: Get in the car, drive to Starbucks, run in, say hi to the barista I know, get my two drinks, get back in the car, head to work.

9:30 a.m.: While I’m driving, it’s time for my twice-weekly call with my partner. On today’s agenda: Hire more clinicians and work on next year’s budget.

10 a.m.: Arrive at work while chatting with Jenna. Sit in my chair, connect to Zoom. Spend the rest of the meeting working on our budget.

10:30 a.m.: Telephone ringtones. End the Zoom call with your partner and move on to a call with the daycare director from this morning’s email. Provide psychoeducation on how teachers, children and parents may react to the event that has occurred. Discuss how to screen for symptoms and what proactive steps to take.

11 a.m.: Zoom meeting with Dr. Deboard-Lucas, Chairman of the TRUE Center Board. The two of us, plus three other clinicians, co-founded the nonprofit, whose mission is to treat trauma in children from underserved communities in the DMV. Discuss the podcast we’re appearing on tomorrow.

Tune in to my next Zoom, where the parents of a teenager I treat are waiting to start their session. The teenager recently revealed that he was sexually abused at the camp years ago.

1:02 p.m.: I text the therapists on my next appointment that I’ll be a few minutes late. Run to the bathroom, run to the fridge, grab my lunch, and log back into Zoom.

1:05 p.m.: Group supervision with our other Maven clinicians. Together, we look at the risks in this week’s cases, such as suicidality. Each of us presents current cases and asks specific questions, and we discuss possible approaches. Meanwhile, I eat my yogurt and Pirate’s Booty, trying not to crunch too hard, and drink my first Coke Zero.

1:50 p.m.: Set up a therapy room. Choose toys: The Legos and Magna Tiles come out because my 6-year-old patient loves them.

Connect to his medical file and review where we are in treatment. He is being treated for trauma related to physical abuse. He just lives with his mother and is very aggressive when angry. He is treated with trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, and we work on identifying and modulating feelings.

My patient builds towers, and I join him, using Lego figures to help him talk about his feelings. We also talk about how to feel better, and I teach her “cookie breathing” (smell the cookies in the oven, then blow on them because they are hot). At the end of the session, his mother joins us, and he teaches her this new skill. I love my work. I know I can really help this kid, and I can see that his mom now has hope too – whereas she didn’t when she first called me.

2:50 p.m.: Quickly clean toys. Take Coke Zero No. 2, bring the caffeine because I still have a lot to do! Write a therapy note about the session. Get ready for the next patient, an 8-year-old girl with anxiety.

3 p.m.: The patient arrives, smiling brightly. She is delighted to see my shoes. During our first session, she didn’t want to enter my therapy room alone, but this time she agreed. Continue to work on our therapeutic alliance. Draw with her. Provide psychoeducation about therapy. She is ready to answer many more questions than when we last met, sharing her anxiety and how it interferes. This entry helps me make his treatment plan. At the end of the session, write a therapy note.

4 p.m.: Zoom with a lawyer representing a mother before a rabbinical court. Discuss his interest in hiring an expert (perhaps me) to testify to the best interests of the client’s daughter regarding custody.

5 p.m.: Fill out a therapy note started earlier in the day. Return emails and phone calls. Eat cheese and drink Coke Zero No. 3. Recall the attorney in California who asks me to review a child’s forensic interview.

6 p.m.: Grab a granola bar and drink Spindrift, wishing it was a Coke Zero No. 4. Review some of the findings from a New Hampshire school sexual abuse case.

7 p.m.: Text your husband about dinner. He reminds me he’s going to the Nationals game. Great excuse to stop at Chipotle for take out.

7:30 p.m.: Go home, cook dinner. Promise me I’ll cook a home cooked meal soon. Look at my elliptical trainer and debate. Barter with yourself to do it tomorrow.

8 p.m.: Chill on the couch, watch a silly reality show. I get upset when trauma happens on the show, so I change the channel. I need escapism, not more abuse disclosures. Do paperwork and answer emails.

10 p.m.: Take a hot bath and read the Washington Post and other news online.

10:45 p.m.: Slip into bed. Pet cat. Browse without thinking on social networks. Read a book on Kindle.

11:15 p.m.: My husband comes home from the baseball game, goes to bed and falls asleep—before me, as always! Finish the book. Buy another Kindle book. Start reading.

Finally, sleep comes around 1:15 Zzz.

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