Balancing the Grind with Sahra O’Doherty, Director at Australian Association of Psychologists Inc

Sahra O’Doherty is the director at Australian Association of Psychologists Inc, a not-for-profit peak body for psychologists formed in 2010.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I’ve been registered as a psychologist for about 11 years, having gone through the “4+2” pathway, where I did two amazing years of supervised training and interning while studying. I started out in disability services, which was completely different to how I imagined working as a psychologist would be.

We focused on person-centred care, which basically centres the client who is receiving the care, empowering them to make choices and guide their supporters, rather than services or professionals determining what they think is “right” for them.

When I started my private practice in Sydney’s inner west, my business partner and I made sure we applied those principles to how we support our clients and our community. We don’t see ourselves as “experts”, but as skilled helpers who facilitate growth and healing in the people who seek our support. 

2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday? 

What I love about my job is that it is always different. I am privileged to support so many different people, which brings such variety to my day. 

On a typical day in the practice doing clinical work, I arrive around 9.45am, after dropping my kids at school. I love having a late start, because I tend to finish quite late on clinic days. My first client is at 10.30am, so my morning routine in the practice is to open everything up, let in some light and air, turn on some soothing music, and give myself space and time to settle into my work day.

I also take that time to review my clients’ files for the day, and prepare for their sessions. I see three clients back to back, and then I take a looong, often two hour lunch break, where I can go for a walk, get some fresh air, and take my time eating. I then see another three clients, wrapping up around 6.30pm. I spend my last 15-20 minutes in the office finishing up admin, before heading home, often listening to a comedy podcast in the car. 

On Mondays, my admin day, I meet with my team to prioritise work for the week and discuss projects we’re all working on. I will also schedule business meetings, such as with our accountant, or I do some professional development or coursework. Last week, I was a guest on a podcast, and the week before that, I was interviewed by a journalist for an article, so there are lots of fun and creative things I also get to do.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?  

Absolutely, and my team is able to take advantage of that. There are times when I will work from home, if it is an admin day, however I prefer to work from the office when I have a clinic day. It’s difficult to ensure confidentiality and privacy when my kids are in the house, so I tend to see clients face-to-face or do telehealth sessions from the office. 

The flexibility of telehealth has just been fantastic for my team and our clients. During COVID-19 lockdowns, it meant that we were able to continue providing quality services, even if we couldn’t physically be present in the room with clients. I know our clients felt that it was beneficial to them too, as it meant they were not missing out on the support they needed.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?  

To me, it means having a sense of fulfilment and deriving a sense of meaning from areas in your life other than work. Sure, work might be necessary, and for a lot of people it can be meaningful and satisfying, but it cannot be the only source of those feelings for us.

Building up other aspects of our lives, such as our relationships, our health and wellbeing, and our personal interests and other areas of personal growth and development, and being able to prioritise these can give us a sense of balancing work and life. When those other three aspects of our lives are taken into consideration, work becomes one-quarter of our lives, and yet we tend to put the most emphasis on it. 

I try to achieve balance by scheduling in and making time for family. That’s why I love my late morning starts. Connections and relationships are super important to me, and I make an effort to maintain those in my life. I try to notice what my body needs, whether it’s resting or exercise, or just getting some fresh air, and I aim to meet those needs every day. I also unapologetically spend time doing fun stuff, creative stuff.

My hobbies at the moment are crocheting little stuffed toys (amigurumi) and making jewellery out of polymer clay. I’ve even gotten my husband into playing with clay with me!

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life? 

I’ve started walking more. Lockdown meant that there were times when I couldn’t or didn’t feel comfortable accessing the gym, so I walked a lot. Getting out and about regularly has been such a great way of clearing my head. 

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend? 

The two books I recommend to everyone are Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss, which to me is a beautiful, hopeful, but honest viewpoint on life, and The Power of No by Abbie Headon. The Power of No is a wonderful, short book on boundaries and asserting yourself. I learnt so much from it, and have let so many clients borrow it so they could find little take-aways for themselves. 

Similarly, the Ladies, We Need To Talk podcast, hosted by the phenomenal Yumi Stynes, addresses so many topics and issues for women. From hormones, relationships and sex, assertiveness, and tackling the mental load, everyone can learn something from that podcast.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without? 

I love my Daylio app, and I recommend it to so many people. It’s a mood tracking app that takes about three seconds to fill in every day, once you’ve set it up. What I love about it is all the statistics you can generate from it. You can see patterns and correlations and the behavioural scientist in me gets super excited about seeing all of that. 

But if I’m honest, it’s my crafting supplies that I can’t live without. I put together a crafting cupboard to store all of it, and I recently spent a weekend organising it, which was extremely satisfying. Just being able to pull out something creative and bright and colourful to craft improves my mood immensely.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?    

I would like to read more about ordinary, everyday people. I would want to read about someone relatable, not a celebrity who has a personal chef and a nanny for the kids, but rather people who have similar struggles to me (and everyone else) and how they’ve managed the juggle.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers? 

Work-life balance seems incredibly difficult to achieve at times, because we live in a world which is becoming more and more unaffordable, and so the pressure is on us to just work, work, work. We need to look at ways of incorporating other, valued activities or relationships in our lives which we find fulfilling and satisfying.

We need to make time for ourselves, spend time with people we care about, and look after our bodies and mental health. If we don’t care for ourselves, we won’t have the capacity or energy to do anything else.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.