A Psychologist and Her Clients: Apart, Yet Heart to Heart

Psychologist Michele McCormick at her Zoom station at home in Laguna Beach. Photo by Barbara McMurray

By Barbara McMurray, Special to the Independent

At her family psychology practice, licensed clinical psychologist Michele McCormick once shared a well-appointed Newport Beach office with two other therapists. With its communal waiting room, it became unsafe to continue meeting in person with clients when COVID-19 struck. McCormick now spends her workdays in front of her computer screen conducting one Zoom video conferencing session after another with couples in crisis, individuals facing their fears, and families seeking guidance with major business decisions.

On top of the health crisis and more conventional problems of modern life, she is also now working with her clients’ layered responses to protests over racial injustice.

For better or worse, business is booming.

Clients are drawn to McCormick’s wise, warm manner to help them through anxiety, pain, sorrow, joy, and milestones. With 50-minute sessions weekdays from 1 to 8 p.m., she barely takes a break or leaves her Laguna Terrace home until the sun is sinking into the ocean across Coast Highway. The work exhilarates her, but, she confesses, the constancy of being on the computer, electronically engaging in what now passes for human interaction, can be draining.

“At first, I felt very anxious. As an independent contractor, you don’t know if your business is recession-proof or COVID-proof,” she said. “Thankfully, when I took a certification course to be a mindfulness meditation teacher in 2018 through UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, much of the course was taught through Zoom, so I became comfortable with online learning. I got familiar with how to make my Zoom connection secure and abide by HIPAA confidentiality requirements.”

Although she prefers counseling face-to-face, most of McCormick’s individual clients are ok with meeting via Zoom.

“They can really feel my presence, and I can see and feel them,” she said. “I’ve seen their homes and they’ve seen mine. In that, there’s a deeper sense of knowing one another. Some prefer to talk on the phone—voices are also an intimate way to connect.”

McCormick enjoys the perks of not commuting. All she has to do is get from her kitchen to my computer. From her Zoom station, McCormick can look out at her garden and do little things she never used to get to do. This week, she saved a baby hummingbird the neighborhood children brought to her after it had fallen from its nest.

“The mama bird came back and was feeding him in a box we set up,” McCormick said.

The baby hummingbird has since taken flight, she said

She added, “I want this to be over. I don’t like living with the heavy hand of uncertainty and fear. It’s been a sobering experience with lots of loss. But we need to be resilient. More than anything, this has taught me how much we need each other.”

Barbara is a Laguna Beach resident of 29 years. Her website is mcmurraymarketing.com.

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