COVID-19 Lockdown – Challenging times

Dear EPASSA members

The EPASSA committee is acutely aware that these are very challenging times during which the global community is adapting to changing realities which are fraught with anxieties, uncertainty and fear in relation to our futures in terms of health and welfare on so many different levels.  As such we are all facing dramatic changes in our personal and professional lives. This has already impacted each and every one of us in a multitude of ways, as a society, personally and professionally. EPASSA is receiving extensive queries from our members seeking support and guidance regarding their practice during the lockdown. We want to commend our members for actively assisting and sharing resources with our community as we all go through this experience together. This ‘togetherness’ and sense of community is reassuring and encouraging.

EPASSA is in full support of President Ramaphosa’s decision to institute a full lockdown in our country as a means of enforcing the practice of social distancing and thereby flatten the curve of this frightening pandemic. We are also aware that mental healthcare has been identified as an essential service and that debates exist about the meaning and the responsible execution of “essential services”.

The uncertainty around what can and cannot be done  is further complicated by the fact that we are all being bombarded by masses of media through personal and group messaging, emails and the press. Much of this information seems contradictory, which leaves us unsure as to how to proceed. It also intensifies the  anxieties that most members of society are experiencing in response to this unprecedented medical crisis. We believe that in some ways the excess communications are also inadvertently increasing the sense of isolation or confusion of many.

EPASSA have been trying to carefully sift through the data that we have received in an attempt to establish clear guidelines as to how to do our work during this time. We are not experts in this matter and will all probably make some mistakes as we grapple our way through this. We remain committed to providing our members with accurate and useful information during these times where the unknown is probably the one stable fact we have.

During the next few weeks we will endeavour to provide you with as much accurate information as we can, remaining mindful of inundating you. Currently, we are comfortable to say that we believe that is in the best interest of the community at large for us all to minimise face-to-face contact and to use our ethical judgement in determining what is “essential” or an emergency  in terms of face-to-face consultation. In these cases we recommend that you carry your up to date HPCSA registration card if you  travel out of your home for consultations. In cases where your client is travelling to you, we suggest that they carry their ID document and some form of proof of an appointment with you.

In line with the policy of social distancing, we recommend that all psychologists act in the best interest of the community at large and conduct as little in-person consultation as possible during lockdown. We recommend that where possible, psychologists  offer remote consultations using encrypted platforms such as ZOOM and WhatsApp video calling. We are aware that this may be challenging and even anxiety-provoking for many psychologists. We have already shared a ZOOM tutorial held by Nicola Dugmore, one of our members. Nicola provided very useful support regarding how to conduct online sessions and we hope to provide more of this support in the near future. Several people and associations have also provided guidelines regarding adjusting to this different form of providing therapeutic support, for example ways to engage in the shift of medium and establishing a new contract of engagement. We are thankful for the meaningful contributions of these organizations. EPASSA will share official information that we receive where we believe that it will support or guide our members.

There have been many questions about medical aid funding of online sessions. We attach the HPCSA communication ratifying the use of telemedicine and providing guidelines for this form of practice. Some medical aids have already sent out communications confirming that they will fund “telepsychology”. As members of the Discovery panel, Martin Strous and Vanessa Gaydon have been in consultation with Discovery regarding their approach. We are aware that Discovery have already published reduced rates for provision of remote telepsychology. We have queried this and will be meeting with Discovery on Wednesday to discuss this. We will keep our members informed in this regard.

We are acutely aware of the impact of the uncertainties and  anxieties on our members and the possible resultant feeling of isolation. The EPASSA committee believe that right now our most valuable contribution to our members would be to provide collegial support and some form of containment for our members who are trying to manage  all of these changes. We will therefore be offering  collegial group sessions to create an open and safe space for sharing information, gaining support and creating a sense of collegial community. We plan to run these sessions regularly in the evening to accommodate members who have ongoing commitments in their practices and with their families. The meetings will be run as group sessions on ZOOM. The first session will start with some sharing of information, after which we will open the floor to a facilitated group support session. We hope to run the first session next week and will send the ZOOM meeting details as soon as they have been finalised.

Wishing you all health, security and calm during these challenging times

The EPASSA Executive Committee

Application of Telemedicine Guidelines