It’s no surprise, really, that busy clinical counsellors like Lindsay Faas have been much busier during the COVID-19 pandemic, talking to an increasing number of first-responders and frontline workers.
“Oh yes, it’s been a crazy few years,” confirmed Faas, director of ThriveLife Counselling & Wellness in Fort Langley, and a frontline worker herself.
“Our clinic, in that first year of the pandemic, we saw triple the intakes when we were already borderline full, so it’s been a real challenge,” she elaborated.
“I’m in touch with other group practice owners in the Lower Mainland and we’ve all been saying the same thing, that it’s hard to know even where to refer people to because everyone that everyone knows is full. Even in the last year, it’s been really intense still, although it’s slowed down just a little bit in recent months.”
Faas started working as a counsellor in 2010, as a trauma therapist in the area of domestic violence, but has since focused more on being an advocate and teacher for first-responder and frontline-worker wellness – for police officers, firefighters, paramedics, emergency dispatch, nurses and others.
The work surprised her in a way.
“Going into my early sessions I thought we would be talking about traumatic calls and processing traumatic experiences, but that ended up being a very small amount of what was needed,” Faas recalled.
“What I learned quickly was that the experiences of first responders and frontline workers paralleled my own: you got into it knowing that the calls would be hard but knowing it would feel fulfilling – it’s the other crap that sinks you.”
Nursing has become a huge area of concern, Faas said, with the “dangerously high” staffing shortages happening in B.C. hospitals right now.
“I get that from every nurse I talk to right now, that if the public knew how bad it is, there would be more change happening,” Faas revealed. “Like, if my kid got sick, I’m not sure exactly where I’d go, because I know how bad it is. It’s a scary level of staffing shortage. There’s been a couple of borderline hospital shutdowns I’ve heard about.”
Early in the pandemic, one nurse told her about the time she was forced into a senior-staff position in the emergency department of a hospital, after only two years on the job.
“She shouldn’t have been there, and knew it,” Faas said.
“One time she had a case that she’d never seen before and was looking at the doctor saying, ‘Hey, I don’t know how to do this.’ He said, ‘Well go get someone who does’ and it was like, ‘I’m the only one here.’ These moments where people feel like they’re put into difficult positions like that, they are really risking public safety and risking their careers, and yet they have no choice.
“We see the ads on TV,” Faas continued, “and the conversation I have with a lot of frontline workers is this fear that in order for things to fundamentally change, something almost catastrophic has to happen to garner enough attention, which is terrifying. Nobody wants that, and the workers are just trying to keep things afloat. We are burning out some really incredible people who work as nurses, I can tell you that, because of staffing shortages.”
In 2020, during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Faas and other clinical counsellors were deemed frontline response in B.C., so they could continue in-person sessions where needed. She says it was an “easy-ish” transition to online sessions for some, and some of that virtual work continues.
Also online, Faas has launched a “Behind the Line” podcast as a way to help frontline workers and first-responders deal with burnout, workplace dynamics, managing mental health, balancing family life and more.
“Unfortunately, the reality is that the stats aren’t great,” says the website where the podcasts are posted (my.thrive-life.ca/behind-the-line).
“Whether you look at divorce rates, mental health concerns, or the very unfortunate suicide data, first responders and frontline workers face higher risk in all of these areas than ‘Joe Citizen.’ There needs to be more support, and support that is real and unafraid to tackle the tough stuff. And that support needs to be accessible and consistent.”