Faces of Cedars-Sinai: Clinical Social Worker Caryn Lindsey
Apr 23, 2020 Cedars-Sinai Staff
Meet Caryn Lindsey, a clinical social worker at Cedars-Sinai who works in the new Reproductive Psychology Clinic, as well as with patients with spine and orthopaedic injuries. Her primary focus is connecting patients to supportive mental health resources and helping them navigate their ongoing care.
Lindsey draws on her unique background as an actor and a trapeze artist to relate to patients and help them heal from surgery and manage depression. We sat down with her to discuss the challenges and rewards of her work.
That has become a surprising, important piece of my work—to be able to relate to how tough it is when your doctors are telling you you're doing better, but recovery takes so long and your days are so dramatically limited.
What do you do at Cedars-Sinai?
Caryn Lindsey: For the past couple months, I've worked with high-risk pregnancy patients and new moms, as well as orthopaedics patients. For two years before this, I worked as a clinical social worker all around Cedars-Sinai—in the Emergency Department, in the intensive care unit and on inpatient floors.
I got excellent experience helping patients with really challenging support needs—patients who were experiencing homelessness, uninsured or underinsured and needed to be connected with ongoing resources when they left Cedars-Sinai.
What is your main focus in your current position?
CL: My primary focus in the Reproductive Psychology Clinic is on mental health. I follow up with every new mom who has delivered at the hospital and also had a positive depression screen.
I help deliver bad news that can happen in prenatal clinics, assist with patients with high anxiety and contact patients when there is a concern about intimate partner violence.
For orthopaedics patients with planned surgeries, I help patients and families plan ahead to alleviate the anxiety of not knowing what their lives will look like when they're discharged from the hospital and recovering.
We discuss what they'll experience after their procedures, whether it's home health or they're going to a skilled nursing facility to recuperate.
The outbreak of COVID-19 (coronavirus) is disrupting and restricting the way we live. How are you approaching your work with pregnant women and new moms right now?
CL: For mothers at high risk of postpartum depression, which is the most common complication in pregnancy, this a very scary time. One of the things we know really helps new moms is social support and help at home—having someone just to come over to do the laundry or cook meals.
This is nearly impossible now with family members avoiding travel and observing social distancing. I'm doing a lot more consistent phone follow up with patients.
My hope is that online support groups become more robust, are held more often and can be impactful during this especially challenging time.
Women do get better, but they need support from a mental health provider. I am continuing to help facilitate that in a very involved sense.
Giving people who are having a hard time getting out of bed a list of providers doesn't really help, so I do a lot of research about which providers have the capacity to work with which patients.
How did you end up at Cedars-Sinai?
CL: I have a strange path to social work—this is a second career for me. I previously made my living as a circus performer, mostly trapeze, contortion and clowning.
Then I was an actor, and part of the work I did for over 10 years was at medical schools. I played a patient in imagined scenarios that help train residents how to communicate. A lot of the "scenes" were designed to help physicians have difficult conversations or deliver bad news to me. Often in these practice scenes, the residents would refer me—my character, the patient—to social work.
Eventually I realized, instead of teaching these medical students how to have these conversations, I really wanted to do this direct work to help actual patients. I went back to school and did my internship at Cedars-Sinai.
How does your background inform your work?
CL: Especially with orthopaedics patients, my background really helps. I've had so many conversations with people, whose injuries have dramatically changed their lives, about how isolated they feel and how difficult it is to maintain relationships when your life shifts.
When I was pretty young, I broke my scapula in a trapeze accident. My life was completely interrupted. I was in the midst of really big work opportunities that completely collapsed, and I didn't have anyone to talk to about that.
That has become a surprising, important piece of my work, to be able to relate to how tough it is when your doctors are telling you you're doing better, but recovery takes so long and your days are dramatically limited.
What do you do when you're not working?
CL: I love to go to the beach with my husband and my dog, and we like to watch and attend sporting events. Also, I absolutely love solo international travel. It's an incredible opportunity to be able to really get to know yourself.
Several years ago, I rode the Trans-Siberian Express across Russia by myself. I lived on the train for a week. It was cold and snowy and beautiful, and I was completely unplugged—with no WiFi or phone or anything. I met and talked to so many strangers from all over the world as they got on and off the train, so I wasn't really alone.