Champions for Children: Meet Psychologist Fiona Kirpichnikov

Did you know our psychologists also work with children with chronic and complex pain conditions to help them cope? In celebration of Psychology Week, we sat down with RCH psychologist Fiona to find out how she works with our patients and why being a florist was her backup career.

How do you work with children who have chronic and complex pain conditions?

Chronic pain is complex condition that requires a comprehensive treatment approach. This is why we have a variety of disciplines on our team including pain specialists, a psychiatrist, psychologists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists.

All of our work is collaborative, and we focus on improving a young person’s function and increasing their engagement in valued activities. Some key areas that psychology would focus on include psychoeducation, changing unhelpful thoughts about pain, building coping strategies, and addressing any mood or anxiety symptoms that may accompany the pain. We work very closely with the parents/family of the young person as they are an important part of the treatment.

How was your team adapted to the challenges of COVID-19?

I believe our team has adapted remarkably well to the challenges of COVID-19. Given we are an outpatient service we swiftly moved all of our meetings online and appointments to telehealth in March and have been predominantly working from home since then. Our team is really pleased that we have been able to continue to deliver care in a safe way by running all of our usual multi-disciplinary assessments and reviews via telehealth.

Prior to COVID-19 our team occasionally delivered telehealth services to patients in regional areas so fortunately it was not a completely new method for us, however, we have certainly become adept with the technology and have discovered many more advantages for our work.  Our patients and their families also seem to have adapted really well to telehealth and we look forward to continuing to provide such a flexible service.

What does a typical day at the RCH look like for you?

A typical day now looks quite different to how it would have 12 months ago given we are working remotely. However, usually we have a multi-disciplinary assessment in the morning, various team meetings throughout the day, my afternoons are spent seeing patients individually for ongoing intervention, and there’s some report-writing and phone calls in the mix!

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is having the opportunity to connect with young people and make a real difference in their lives. One of the most valued aspects of my job is when a young person utilizes the skills that I have taught them and over time is able to increase their capacity to self-manage their pain and associated emotional concerns. It’s a great feeling to know that I am helping to equip young people with coping skills and resources so that they have confidence to navigate through life’s challenges.

Why is Psychology Week so important?

Psychology Week is an annual initiative of the Australian Psychological Society to increase awareness of how psychology can help Australians lead healthier, happier and more meaningful lives. It serves as a useful opportunity to demystify and communicate the various benefits of psychology to the general public. This year the Psychology Week campaign aims to highlight the prevalence of chronic pain in our community and promote how psychologists can contribute to pain management interventions.

Can you tell us an interesting fact about yourself or something your team may not know about you?

I was born and raised on a flower farm and have been surrounded by flowers most of my life. If I didn’t go down the pathway of psychology, I definitely would have been a florist!

 What made you want to become a psychologist?

I really enjoyed my psychology subject when going through VCE and decided to pursue it in university. I always had a curiosity about the inner workings of the mind, and I knew that I enjoyed making genuine connections and helping people.

What three things would you take to a desert island?

A kayak, a hammock and a fishing rod. I don’t think I’d last very long though!

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