Dr. Louise Metcalf is the founder & CEO of Gheorg, a startup on a mission to tackle the big issue of childhood anxiety using technology.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I’ve been a psychologist for nearly 30 years. I founded a startup a few years ago, Gheorg, that supports the many kids who need more mental wellbeing support and as a psychologist I work right across the human lifespan with adults and children.
My career went through a transformation five years ago when my son was born. That was when I started to really see the rise in childhood mental health conditions.
When I started taking my son to childcare, as soon as people knew I was a psychologist I was bombarded with questions about childhood anxiety. I had recognised the rise of anxiety in children in my practice area, but I had thought it was localised. I was very wrong!
After looking into the statistics, I was horrified to see how high the rates of childhood anxiety had become. As a coincidence, at the same time I was also reviewing the psychology workforce numbers and projections of mental health issues for a government submission.
Seeing how many more psychologists we needed and the rise in childhood anxiety helped me to see the avalanche of mental health conditions that were on the way!
It was so clear that we would not be able to meet the demand for the children with anxiety currently (two-thirds of these kids are not diagnosed or helped now), and we would have no chance at all of helping the much larger numbers of adult mental health conditions that will arise when the current children with anxiety become adults.
So as I looked at these stats, I realised that people can’t be the only solution to this problem. I developed a little robot called Gheorg that could help kids self-manage mild conditions.
Eventually we want Gheorg to be connected to our amazing psychology workforce (who are, some of the best in the world) so that he can recognise and connect kids with moderate and severe conditions.
Our mission is to ensure that every child gets the help they need. The app launched on the app stores in September 2020 and he is still a bit of a baby app himself with basic features, but he is growing fast and we’re developing new features to support these kids.
When I first started as a psychologist, I tried to get a broad view of practice so I worked in counselling for Vietnam War Veterans with PTSD, I did some rape counselling as well as drug and alcohol counselling.
Later, I worked as a consultant to improve mental health in the workplace and to find better ways for people to really love coming to work. I became an expert in the area of organisational psychology and I still sometimes support projects in this area.
In the past, I have also taught psychology at Masters level at Macquarie University and I’ve taught undergraduate psychology for the Australian College of Applied Psychology which was really fun.
I also did some work with the United Nations and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) drawing together the way the natural environment can protect mental health. We seem to be a bit behind in recognising the important link between nature and human health.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
To say my day is a “part-juggle, part-multitasking” is an understatement, but it is what most psychologist’s days look like!
Each day I try to balance being mindful during family time, taking care of myself at key moments throughout the day with healthy meals and movement, on top of managing client sessions and my startup.
My work as a psychologist involves a mix of 1-1 sessions with clients via telehealth or at my local Sydney clinic, reviewing and writing notes following sessions, and supervision sessions with training psychologists.
I’m always excited to work on Gheorg and throughout a typical week I look at the app and product features we’re developing, I consider business development for our new schools educational program, I write reports for our investors, and I also help create the marketing content.
Throughout 2020, I also participated in a couple of accelerator programs both in Australia and Singapore which kept me learning and testing new ideas to help Gheorg grow.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
Gheorg is all run online so that is very flexible. I am very passionate about having parents work for us, so I am focused on building our systems in ways so that parents can work and still look after kids.
It’s working really well, and that approach doesn’t just work for parents, it makes life easier for everyone. All the Gheorg crew without kids are enjoying the freedom and the ability to work wherever and whenever they like.
The clinic, though, was always face-to-face until the federal government allowed telehealth. When the pandemic hit, working in the city was getting more and more precarious for family health so it was such a relief to be able to swap to doing sessions online. Most of our clients adapted so quickly and easily which was amazing. I am so proud of everyone.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
I don’t think I can ever use the term “work-life balance”. I prefer “work-life meshing”. To me, balance hints at a kind of full-day zen or peacefulness and I doubt that will ever be me! I did my PhD in 4 years part-time! I see it more like a daily juggle – at least at the moment.
When you practice as a psychologist you can see how flexible time perception can be. Some people see life as happening very quickly, all around them, so they speed up to try and meet it (sometimes too much) and then there are some that see life as very slow, too slow, and it gives them a sense that nothing happens to them, or for them.
I find that idea of time perception very interesting, and I try to use it. I use mindfulness to slow life down on weekends and times when I am with my family, like during my typical morning having breakfast together.
I also allow my mind to be a bit “speedy” and multi-task when it’s appropriate, like between sessions when I need to review notes. I like to slow down completely and let silence and even “stopping” during sessions as it helps people to really talk.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
I once read an article about New Year’s Resolutions that said you should write a To Do List alongside a Not To Do List. I try to do this every 6 months. I have a long Not To Do List these days!
One of my most recent changes was to start getting a delivery service for my meals. I have a much stricter diet than what my 5-year-old should eat, and that my male partner would ever want to eat, so I was having to cook multiple versions of every meal, or cook a lot separately and then assemble with added bits for the males in the family! It’s been so much easier to get everything delivered and just cook one meal.
I intend to add a house cleaning service this coming year to add even more ease into my life.
I also recently moved house to a much more rural area without a gym, so my gym membership is now gone, and I run and do yoga instead. I don’t love yoga yet, but I am hoping it grows on me. I am also an avid gardener now, not a good one! But it is a fun challenge.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I mostly read scientific journal articles which I would never be so heartless as recommend to anyone! But, I always include fiction reading in my week as well. Human beings are the only species (that we know of) that have an imagination, so we should all be using it on a daily basis!
For fiction: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke – such a great story of two wizards in a very petty fight over how magic should be done, beautifully told!
For adults struggling with the strangeness of a post pandemic world: This One Wild and Precious Life: The Path Back to Connection in a Fractured World by Sarah Wilson – a story of travel and searching for deeper answers to the big problems we face right now
A podcast for adults who might need to lighten their day before they speak to loved ones (definitely right for psychologists): Titting About by Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French – no explanation needed, just irreverent fun!
If you want to catch up on all things tech and US politics: Pivot, with Kara Swisher and NYU Professor Scott Galloway. I’ve got such a crush on Scott’s brain!
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
- Gheorg – My little robot who is helping kids 7-12 years old with anxiety and to build resilience, of course!
- Spotify – I always have music or a podcast on when I work
- Robot vacuum – my dear friend for many years and has been fixed multiple times
- Mobile modem – for whenever extreme weather hits
- Phone and laptop of course
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
I’d like an update from Sheryl Sandberg. She has written some really interesting views on this in the last few months and I’d like to see her draw it all together.
Sandberg stated a few months ago that women have been working the “double-double shift” during the pandemic with homeschooling, nursing, and more counselling added in.
I think that’s very true. I’d love to hear more from her. Once she’s been in the Whitehouse for awhile, I would love to hear from Jill Biden too, she’s already facing some nasty discrimination due to her intelligence.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Of course I do! The one thing that really stuffs up the whole work-life balance dream is…. Perfectionism. If you want a busy life to feel good, you have to let go of everything being perfect because a busy life is never perfect!
There is always stuff that won’t happen on time, or won’t happen to the standard that you need so you might have to do something twice. For example: you might order your groceries online to be delivered at a particular time, but it doesn’t arrive in time for dinner, so your partner pops down to the shops and gets some supplies, but then doesn’t get all the right ones to make the beautiful meal you wanted. That can be a nightmare scenario for some and very stressful!
However, if you value adaptability over perfectionism this scenario becomes comfortable, and even fun. So yes, the groceries don’t turn up, and your partner brings back only a few ingredients, but instead of focusing on what you can’t do, you work with what you can, and experiment with new flavours! Yes, it could be a disaster, but you’ve learned something!
So ditch perfectionism and learn to love adaptability! That will make a busy life feel great, rather than stressful or impossible.
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