How a registered psychologist finds balanceMental health · Mar 2, 2022
Have you ever wondered what a day in the life of a mental health professional is like? What motivates them to do the important work they do? Or how they themselves cope with the inevitable stressors in life?
Meet Dr. Lephuong Ong, Registered Psychologist with TELUS Health Care Centres
Dr. Ong starts each morning with yoga. Some stretching and breathing, she says, allow her to focus her mind and set the tone for the day ahead.
It’s an important first step in the daily routine of the registered psychologist. Dr. Ong practices clinical, health, and rehabilitation psychology. She helps clients manage stress and anxiety, depression, and helps them develop skills to cope with chronic medical conditions. A member of the mental health team at TELUS Health Care Centres in Vancouver, she provides compassionate and evidence-based psychology services for older teens and adults.
After making breakfast and getting her three year old son ready and out the door, Dr. Ong checks her schedule and starts reviewing client charts. “I start prepping treatment session plans, answer messages and read any interesting news stories that have come up,” she says. “Then I see my morning clients.” Seeing clients is something she approaches with a sense of gratitude. “I feel so grateful to be able to meet clients at some of the most difficult times in their lives. I find a lot of meaning in being able to guide and support them to a place of improved health and resilience.”
Since 2002, Dr. Ong has been practicing cognitive behaviour therapy that incorporates mindfulness approaches. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy approaches can help keep your brain healthy in times of uncertainty. Scientific studies have shown them to be effective for the treatment of depression, anxiety, insomnia, stress, and chronic pain.
“Our thoughts, feelings and behaviours are all interconnected,” she observes. “They aren’t isolated. A really powerful way to shift how we are feeling is to acknowledge that our thoughts are really an interpretation of what’s going on in our lives. They’re not objective. This awareness allows us to be selective when it comes to deciding which thoughts are helpful and which thoughts are not serving us.”
By midday, she’s often attending a lunch meeting with colleagues. “I really appreciate working as a part of this multidisciplinary team,” she says, referencing the mental health team at TELUS Health Care Centres, which is made up of a diverse group of health professionals including psychologists, counsellors, social workers, dietitians, kinesiologists, and physicians. “I can consult and connect with them, and learn from their experiences, which wouldn’t necessarily be the case in a private practice. I gain a broader perspective that ultimately helps me provide more holistic care to my clients.”
After eating lunch, and if there aren’t any meetings, Dr. Ong tries to get outside for a brief walk and some fresh air. “It’s a bit of a ritual for me,” she says. “It’s how I reset for the afternoon.” The afternoon usually consists of more appointments with clients. Then, after completing her clinical notes, Dr. Ong writes letters, and responds to messages. She also carves out time in her schedule for professional development. “This might be attending a webinar, reading articles, or anything that helps me improve my skills and stay up to date,” she says. Dr. Ong finds a deep sense of fulfillment in what she does, but admits that like most careers, being a registered psychologist isn’t without its challenges. “Sometimes it’s hard,” she says, “There are some days and some weeks where it seems like people are really struggling. You want them to do well. You want to be able to help them.” But these moments, in their own way, can be valuable too, and help Dr. Ong recognize when it may be time to pivot. “When things aren’t working, it forces me to adjust my approach and treatment plan. A reset can sometimes be really useful and helpful for a client in the long-run.”
The end of the work day signals another transition point in Dr. Ong’s typical routine. After writing down notes for the next day, she will try to meditate, or go out for a walk. Both, she says, are activities she finds relaxing and energizing, and help her make the shift from professional to personal life at the end of the day.
Dr. Ong understands the importance of taking care of yourself, likely owing to her own personal experiences.“I had a big setback with my health,” she shares of her past. “Through the recovery process, by overcoming burnout, I became aware of the impact of stress on physical health.”
Enrolling in a health psychology course during university was the pivotal point when Dr. Ong realized she had found her calling. “I learned about stress, illness, and the immune response, and I was hooked,” she says. “At the time, I had no idea that emotions had such a profound effect on health and vice versa.”
She describes her experiences taking this course as eye-opening, validating her shift in majors not long before. Previously a pre-commerce student, Dr. Ong switched to a psychology degree when she realized she was really interested in human behaviour and relationships. “I knew then that I wanted to become a psychologist to help people navigate difficulties and see the link between mental and physical health. Now, I try to practice what I preach,” she says of taking that walk or meditating at the end of the day. It’s de-stressing activities like that that she encourages clients to do themselves.
After picking up her son and having dinner together, play time begins. "He's incredibly sweet and funny, but he's also strong willed." she says of her little boy. “He knows what he wants to do and how he wants to play. He makes up songs that he sings to himself, and he loves stories and books. Reading a bedtime story is a time to connect with him because I haven’t seen him all day.” Some nights of the week, she also tries to make time to practice playing on her cello.
Once the storybook is shut for the night, it’s Dr. Ong’s turn to unwind before bed. “After cleaning, and tidying, I might do some reading or watch a series, and end the night with music and preparing for bed” she says.
Reflecting on her day-to-day, Dr. Ong says she values being part of an organization that takes a holistic and preventative approach to care.
“It’s not just about physical health, it’s also about mental health and wellbeing”, she says. “And TELUS Health is making that holistic care accessible, both through its physical spaces like clinics, and virtual programs.”
“I haven’t been a part of a company that encourages that kind of engagement before,” she says when speaking about the ways in which TELUS gives back to the community and encourages volunteerism. “It lines up with my values”.
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Dr. Ong is one of many dedicated mental health professionals working on the TELUS Health team for the TELUS Health Care Centres, where psychology and counseling services are available both in-person and virtually in British Columbia and Alberta. Mental health counseling is also available virtually through TELUS Health MyCare in Alberta, BC, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Quebec. Additionally TELUS Health Virtual Care, our virtual care service offered by employers for employees, offers mental health support and primary care, and may be available to you through your employer.