Episode 4 | Bernard Piprah

Care2Listen Podcast | Season 1, Episode 4

If somebody is coming to me at a place of burnout, it’s so understandable, especially in the last few years with, you know, the toll on the healthcare system and so many healthcare workers who are like the core of the healthcare industry haven’t necessarily been feeling that way, feeling valued.

Clinical counsellor Bernard Piprah discusses the importance of well-being in healthcare and how the culture of being overworked and busy has been normalized in the industry, leading to the stigma around prioritizing self-care.

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Sean Burke: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Care2Listen podcast, where we interview frontline workers and healthcare experts who will share their stories and passions. This is a podcast to let you know that you’re not alone. The goal of this series is to reduce the mental health stigma in healthcare and provide accessible support for caregivers just like yourself.

This episode is brought to you by the Care for Caregiver’s peer support line, Care to Speak. Care to Speak is a peer-based phone, text, and web chat service that provides free and confidential support to health and social support workers in BC. Connect with us Monday to Friday from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM Pacific time by texting or calling 1-866-802-7337 or visit our website by Googling Care to Speak to chat with us.

This podcast discusses topics that may be triggering for some viewers. Please read the show notes for a detailed description of the topics being discussed. [00:01:00] Today’s episode is being broadcasted to you on the unceded and traditional territories of the Musqueam (xʷməθkʷəy̓əm), Squamish (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw), and Tsleil-Waututh (səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ) Nations.

Sean Burke: Hello, everybody, and welcome back to another episode of the Care2Listen podcast. Today I’m joined by an amazing guest, Bernard Piprah, clinical counsellor, psychotherapist, maybe thrown in there. Welcome to the show, Bernard.

Bernard Piprah: Thank you for having me.

Sean Burke: So, jumping into it right away, I am curious, who are you? What do you do? Tell the audience a little bit about yourself.

Bernard Piprah: I’ve been practicing as a registered clinical counsellor officially the last three years. I’ve been a counsellor for the last ten years plus. I’m out in Langley, British Columbia, but I work with people all over the province and even outside of BC, which is a really cool thing.

Sean Burke: When it comes back to the work that you’ve done in healthcare: in [00:02:00] 2013, I think you started your career with Fraser Health. Can you share a little bit about what you were doing at that time?

Bernard Piprah: Yeah. I’ve always worn a lot of hats.When I started in Fraser Health, I was working as a counsellor in psychiatric units, supporting patients that were there, getting them in a place of stability and then reintegration back in the community. But I was also working as a violence prevention instructor, which was a really, really cool experience for me because I, believe it or not, I’ve been typically, historically, I’ve been afraid, and it’s been a struggle to speak in public for me.

So I thought, okay, you know, this kind of helps me in two ways. I can work on that side of me outside of like a Toastmasters class, which I still am not sleeping on. I’m open for doing that even still. And then the other side [00:03:00] was about learning from staff in this huge organization I’m just joining, different things that are going on that are challenging them to show up to work, challenging their confidence, their ability to be their best every day.

And so through the violence prevention experience, I was able to really learn about a lot of different industries that I’ve never had a chance to work in, and the challenges that they face and trying to figure out, okay, from what I know, how can I help them, encourage them to be the best at what they do?

And that’s been a process I’m still working on, and it’s not an easy thing.

Sean Burke: Absolutely. What are some of those challenges that you’re seeing from a healthcare provider perspective today?

Bernard Piprah: You know, I’ve got family in healthcare. A lot of families have Immigrated to Canada, you’re trying to find, you know, some stable employment, and you’re finding healthcare is often a steady, [00:04:00] source of employment.

But once you’re entering a specific area of that, and sometimes for my family it was like long-term care. The challenges that you face in that kind of line of work quite significant. You know, if you’ve ever had a family member who’s had dementia, for example, and supporting somebody through that, really difficult for, you know, a wide range of different behaviours that you might see from them.

A lot of, not just even verbal but also physical circumstances that are really challenging to go into day in and day out. It could wear down somebody quite a bit, support somebody with dementia. And so, you know, knowing that I had family members who are in that situation, um, was kind of like, wow, that’s really tough for you to kind of show up and be that person you’re supposed to be every day.

And I got even further insight once I was a violence prevention instructor [00:05:00] about the challenges, about feeling confident going back to work and knowing that there’s certain patients that are physically demanding on a lot of staff, and knowing how that could be really disenfranchising.

That can be stressful, that can weigh you down. And what are those staff doing to take care of themselves, and is that possible? And I’ve learned a lot of things. Even pre-pandemic, I think the culture of well-being hasn’t always been something that’s been encouraged, surprisingly enough, in healthcare

Sean Burke: We’ve heard the horror stories of mass exodus of different personnel. Short staffed, and it gained into a lot of that trauma that might be brought home to the family in addition to the work that you’re doing in serving the patients and your colleagues. So if someone were to start working with you, maybe in more of a counselling [00:06:00] dynamic, what would that look like for those individuals? How do you sort of approach some of those conversations?

Bernard Piprah: I just try to normalize some of the things that they’re going through. If somebody is coming to me at a place of burnout, it’s so understandable, especially in the last few years with, you know, the toll on the healthcare system and so many healthcare workers who are like the core of the healthcare industry haven’t necessarily been feeling that way, feeling valued.

And I know that I can’t do anything to take care of the wages part, which has been really highly publicized and whatnot. But it’s about your wellbeing. Let’s explore the circumstances that have kept you from prioritizing, taking care of your well-being, and a lot of that is stigma. That has been kind of indoctrinated onto a lot of [00:07:00] healthcare workers from like training days about the value of being overworked and being super busy and how that has been like this thing that’s been so alluring for us to adopt.

And it is not just particular to the healthcare industry, right? Like this culture about being so busy and being so tired, exhausted. Is like a great thing.

Sean Burke: Yeah, that badge of honour that so many people think and perceive as being success or ways to achieve that success.

Bernard Piprah: Yeah. And, so it’s about examining, okay, so how’s that going for you? Where did that idea come from? Did that equate to like happiness and balancing your life, and feeling like you have purpose? And oftentimes, you know, through just having those kind of conversations that unfortunately aren’t always encouraged from coordinators or [00:08:00] supervisors at work, but for a myriad of reasons, it’s pretty discouraged.

I think that that’s the first thing that needs to change. I think that a lot of healthcare workers need to be open to supporting one another through acknowledging, I’m not okay and like it’s okay to not feel like this in this season because of valid reasons.

Sean Burke: And you know, you talk about culture, you talk about the workplace environment and how that sort of shapes and can either lift an individual up or oftentimes take an individual down or amplify some of those challenges.

In particular, we often see individuals thinking that. You know, I’m in this alone, or this is my problem alone to solve. So what, from a team perspective, could be done in the healthcare industry to support one another?

Bernard Piprah: The importance of starting from the top, so whoever that leader is on that site, or that care home, [00:09:00], I think it’s very important to communicate openly and openly in terms of talking about like the elephant in the room.

When it comes to challenges that those frontline workers are going through. I think it’s very important to acknowledge that, to use the frontline workers as a vital part of care planning when it comes to reducing incidents that lead to burnout at the workplace. And without those conversations and normalizing like, hey, burnout is gonna happen to potentially anybody here.

If they aren’t able to feel supported and valued at work and outside of work, they’re not taking care of themselves or the idea of, like, I can’t, I’m too busy. Life is too overwhelming. I think understanding what self-care is is the first thing cuz it means something different to you than it does to me.

Like what does self-care mean to you? [00:10:00]

Sean Burke: Yeah so I mean, I would frame self-care as taking care holistically of your individual wellbeing and prioritizing yourself to make sure that you show up in a good, healthy mindset.

Bernard Piprah: Right? Yeah. And, it’s so personal and I think having conversations about like, you know, thinking about what you need to be able to be the best that you can be and what’s getting in the way of that.

And maybe it’s not exactly like an open dialogue, but I think it’s about like individually thinking about, okay, what helps you be the best at what you do? At work and outside of work. Sometimes it’s about, you know, feeling supported, feeling valued, having a safe team, having good protocol, and then it’s like, okay, what helps you outside of work that’s important?

And that’s an individual thing. Sometimes it’s like, okay, well, you know, maybe I have to have like, equal partnership at home with that [00:11:00] person I share a home with. Maybe it’s about I need to be hiking once a month. Maybe it’s about going to Pilates class three times a week, like whatever it is, people need to really think about that and then take a step back and assess: What gets in the way of me doing that? Do I not have enough resources? Do I feel like I don’t have the time to do that, and how do I break that problem down?

Sean Burke: You know, speaking from personal experience, I am a completely different person when I get a run-in or, you know, go play hoops or go do something physical. If I don’t have that physical outlet, I am not mentally showing up well. So I definitely hear what you’re saying and, you know, I wanted to jump back a little bit to the culture side of things because, as you mentioned, if there are, healthcare industry having lots of different immigrants that are coming into the workplace and working and bringing whatever culture and normalization of stigma around mental health [00:12:00] might be from their preexisting cultures.

How can we support and reduce that stigma to help people know that there are supports, and how have you sort of navigated that aspect of mental health and wellbeing?

Bernard Piprah: That’s a heck of a question because I think the mentality that a lot of new Canadians have when they’re working in the healthcare industry is like, I gotta keep the lights on. And that means I gotta put up with anything that I’m going through at work. And that’s such a dangerous mentality. I understand it’s necessary at times for a lot of healthcare staff, but we need to recognize like longevity is a very important part.

Like, are we just living to work? And if that’s a major priority, that has a shorter timeline than a lot of us believe. And so I like to encourage those individuals to look at, like, you’re part of the system [00:13:00] that has protocol, that has safeguards. Are you fully aware of all those important things?

Like have you had the opportunity to recognize your benefits, what you’re entitled to, and using your voice? And the value of your voice. And so I think that’s an important thing that needs to take off in terms of having conversations around what you’re able to do, what you’re able to access, and the change that you can make.

And it starts with talking with one person you work with about what’s going on, what kind of stress you’re under, and challenging this idea of like, I need to be tough as nails all the time. And this permeates throughout healthcare. You know, I’ve seen this in law enforcement. I’ve seen a lot of different first responders, like, I gotta be so tough, I gotta be bulletproof, I gotta be Superman.

And the idea behind that, super flawed, because you [00:14:00] need to be connected. You need to be able to be present and empathetic. And that means you gotta also be vulnerable to the challenges in which you are supporting other human beings. So I can’t be over here and be like invincible and then trying to be present with supporting somebody often like intimately and have like such, this huge disconnect between myself.

I think we have to be able to kind of take the mask off and especially with one another. Which is not the easiest thing in healthcare because part of that culture that’s also problematic too, is this like rivalry between professions that happens within healthcare systems. It could be from coordinator to home support worker.

It could be between respiratory therapists and nurse. It could be between social worker and, you know, whomever. We need to recognize, like [00:15:00] we are all in this together. Especially right now with what’s happening at present and the multitude of different specific roles that are facing a lot of shortages, it is clear that burnout, stress at some point is affecting a wide range of industries.

So why, why not take a step forward in terms of trying to address the stress by acknowledging that different roles are going through certain challenges? A and then B) let’s try to have real conversations about what’s going on and break through this idea that we have to be indestructible at work.

Sean Burke: And having those real conversations, one, you know, helps the individual who’s actually bringing forth the challenge or whatever it is that they’re struggling with, but also supports the rest of the team because it starts to open those conversations.

And, you know, hopefully the individual who you go to is there to support you in a good way. And sometimes, you know, [00:16:00] we’ve heard that individual who’s often busy might not give you the response that you need. They might be dismissive. And so if that were to happen, what would you say to that individual in terms of, you know, moving to the next person or trying to solve their problem? What advice would you give them?

Bernard Piprah: Yeah. I mean, I hope that they wouldn’t be discouraged that not everyone’s going to see things the way you do, right? Everyone’s entitled to have their own lens. If you don’t immediately get the kind of validation from reaching out to somebody, know that there are other people that you work with that are going through that.

I like to encourage that person to take steps away from feeling like, oh, I’m being this disruptor. I’m making too much noise. I’m like, you know, there’s a positive from making noise from challenging the systems. That’s actually how evolution happens, how things get better, by challenging the status quo.

No matter what part of [00:17:00] the lower mainland you’re working in, there are other individuals who understand the stress and really challenging circumstances that individual’s going through. So if you go to a colleague who’s invalidating about what you’re going through, I would always encourage that person to say, Hey, look, that’s one person who has their own perspective on what’s going on. Without a doubt, there are so many others that understand the stresses that you’re going through.

Sean Burke: And that’s something I think when it comes to understanding what supports are available to you, knowing who are your people that you can go to and have that safe circle and trust to be able to, to share this stuff with, is just so important and critical for people to have a positive outlet.

When it comes to benefits, when it comes to understanding your benefits a conversation we had earlier as well. And oftentimes people just don’t know what’s out there. So what type of advice do you have when it [00:18:00] comes to people around understanding, knowing their benefits, and what can they do to take advantage of all those supports that are available to them?

Bernard Piprah: Yeah, I think it starts with talking about wellness. Not everybody has this clear understanding of what wellness means to me, what are things that I’ve actively been doing or things I’ve been curious about trying out, and I talk about, okay, part of the time and the investment that you’re giving into this employer provides you with a lot of things to keep you well, to keep you active, to keep you healthy, and the importance of exploring what those different opportunities are.

Your benefits are there to help you kind of grow and keep you strong to evolve with the different challenges and the pressures that are going on within the healthcare system. So I really try to encourage knowledge about talking about benefits, [00:19:00] talking with your colleagues about, what are you doing to keep yourself well?

How are you using the benefits that you earn to kind of take care of yourself, to take care of your family, right. And having those conversations are a good thing. Cause you can learn a lot about what different people are doing and I think it’s so important towards your longevity. I think that the concept of, like, I’m just gonna kind of keep going and pushing forward, and I’m not intentionally looking at taking care of myself when I’m off the clock is like a really dangerous mindset.

We evolve, our values evolve from your teenage years to your adult years, your values change, undoubtedly. And then, from your young adult years to your mid-adult years, your values are gonna evolve, right? Life’s going to change, and circumstances happen, so we also have to adapt with that.

So what are we doing to adapt with your evolving [00:20:00] values? A lot of people kind of sit back and be like, oh, I didn’t think about that. You know, or I didn’t recognize how much my top five values changed throughout my twenties, my thirties, my forties, and am I adapting to that? What are the supports? How do they look differently?

How are my activities outside of work, my recreational activities, my hobbies? How are those evolving, and how do the benefits that you get through your employment possibly support that? How have you been exploring that or not exploring that, and what’s behind your not exploring that?

Sean Burke: And even just listening to you today, I mean, I am a big believer in counselling, therapy, and I think in, especially in today’s world where there’s so much going on, having that external voice, who can support you through different narratives that you consistently tell yourself [00:21:00] or coping mechanisms that maybe aren’t the most healthy for you.

But to have that open, unbiased, supportive lens really gives you that perspective is something that I often encourage people, it’s a strength to have that. And if your benefits support you and enable you to make use of that when you need, it’s such a great opportunity. We had a podcast episode where we were talking about microaggressions in the workplace.

And I’m curious how that might show up in a healthcare setting or if there’s been any experiences that you’ve had either through your work as a facilitator, or through some of the counseling sessions that you’ve given, how that sort of presents itself in the healthcare industry.

Bernard Piprah: I think microaggressions are a real part of so many different industries. Um, I don’t think it’s unfamiliar within the healthcare system and I think it’s really important to take time to recognize how do you want people [00:22:00] to respond and see who you are and when that’s not happening, when you’re kind of questioning certain statements that are made towards you, I think it’s important to kind of call it out.

I think it’s really important to set boundaries with yourself and not feel like, oh, this person said this to me, but like, I’m in a position of lesser power, so I gotta keep my mouth shut and just accept that. That quickly as you know, turns into a bullying situation that’s gonna go from short to long term if we let that happen.

And work is stressful enough for a lot of folks, and so I think it’s really important to realize what’s the better option here. Do I allow this kind of behaviour to happen from a fellow employee or do I make things awkward but necessarily balanced and safe from it myself by speaking to what’s going on?[00:23:00]

And I’ve been in both positions where I’ve kind of sat back and like, oh, I feel like I just got here and somebody has taken a step towards letting me know like, Hey, I got the power here, just to let you know what’s up. And I’m like, Hmm, okay. And you know, I think a lot of people kind of have to go through that and deal with that on a regular basis.

And if you’re in a system that allows you to feel as like, you know, like a valuable member that preaches equity and all that kind of stuff, then you need to use that system. You need to believe that like, you know, there’s safety around letting someone know, like, no, that’s not okay. Like, you’ve gone outta your way to try to make me feel uncomfortable, and I’m not just gonna accept that and let that be a part of my life.

Um, and that takes, uh, sometimes counselling. Sometimes that takes encouragement from an employee, from a family member, but I think it’s just [00:24:00] important to talk about these things and realize, you know, these certain slide comments that I’m not sure if that’s like a diss, if somebody’s trying to take a swing at me. Can be really significant microaggressions that can be a regular part of your life unless you address it.

Uh, and it’s important to have the safety to address it.

Sean Burke: Yeah. And that, really just creates that toxic workplace environment. Um, doesn’t really invite people and make it that safe place to have those conversations. I think, as you mentioned, really important to kind of call that out and have those open discussions.

I think Ruth Unaegbu also shared a little bit about, you know, it’s this idea of death by a thousand cuts. So maybe, you know, you might let it slide that one time. And then the second time, and then slowly over time, it just continues to manifest into something much bigger. In a scenario where maybe somebody had the courage and vulnerability to go to a colleague and talk to them a [00:25:00] little bit about some of the struggles or something they were going through, oftentimes we hear that that person on the receiving end, doesn’t think it’s their job or responsibility, or it’s too intimidating, or I’m not a counsellor, I can’t really support you.

So what are some tips or tools or techniques that you might offer to that individual to support their colleagues?

Bernard Piprah: I think it’s important from the jump to think, okay, look, I don’t need to solve all this person’s problems. But, you know, we are in the helping industry.

How can I point this person in the right direction? How can I promote this person’s well-being to allow them to be the colleague that I need them to be, to have my back, to be doing well, to keep this program, this unit, going in the same way that I’m trying to. And I think it’s about being empathetic towards the fact that [00:26:00] a lot of us show up to work and are carrying some heavy emotional baggage.

And so first about being in that place of understanding, okay, this, this person’s going through something right now, and maybe I can just point them in the right direction. Maybe I can validate what they’re going through and be like, you know, that must be tough. I’m sorry you’re going through that.

And the old words alone are profound to somebody who’s feeling vulnerable enough to be open with somebody and tell ’em like, I’m struggling right now. You know, I’m not motivated. I’m feeling like I’m burnt out. Like, I don’t know if I can keep doing this. Just acknowledging, being like, yeah, I can understand that. I’ve felt like that sometimes and encouraging that person to take different avenues.

It’s important to take care of yourself outside of work and maybe chatting with someone like, you know, what are you doing when you’re off the clock? Like, how do you unwind? Maybe letting the person know, I think it’s a good time to look into[00:27:00] your wellness package and making that a priority for yourself is important. I think it’s encouraging to let them know you’re not alone. There’s people that you can talk to that can be really helpful. And the fact that if you are struggling, that doesn’t mean you are flawed or broken, and getting through that mentality of, what I get a lot is, if I’m going to therapy, something’s really wrong with me.

Sean Burke: We hear that all the time, and I mean, I know it couldn’t be further from the truth. For those listeners out there as well, if it’s not even a counselor, or a therapist, or you leveraging the wellness package, there is also the Care to Speak line where there’s 24/7 access to other people in the healthcare industry that you can just talk to. They understand what you’re going through and they might be able to just support you [00:28:00] just by providing that safe space, in addition to what might be available in that wellness package.

The big thing and the big piece that keeps coming up back to me is, “Connection, not comparison.” And if we can increase our ability to connect with one another rather than compare ourselves to one another, that shame, that isolation, is really being broken down. And we can build that teamwork; we can come together to support one another. And we can ultimately create these safe places where we all feel supported and want to show up to work.

So, with that, Bernard, we really appreciate your time here today and wanted to thank you for sharing your experience your guidance; and I wanna remind everybody that someone like Bernard is out there to support you if you are struggling.

Thank you for taking the time today, Bernard. We really appreciate you.

Bernard Piprah: I appreciate the time. I appreciate everyone allowing me to have this platform to speak on this important subject and [00:29:00] just the work that you guys are doing. It’s really important. So I’m thankful for it.

Sean Burke: Thanks for listening to this episode. Be sure to visit the links and the show notes for more resources and supports for the Care for Caregivers program. If you’re interested in sharing your story on the Care2Listen podcast, please reach out to us at careforcaregivers.ca/podcast. And don’t forget to follow us on your favourite podcast platform to be notified of when new episodes are released.

Thanks again for joining us, and see you next month.