I worked as a mental health counsellor for a Canadian military base for about a decade. During this time, I saw many soldiers with PTSD – infantrymen, pilots, intelligence officers and other trades, all of whom had been exposed to unspeakable horrors in war-torn countries such as Rwanda, Afghanistan and Bosnia. Many of them struggled with nightmares, anxiety, intrusive thoughts and reintegration into the civilian world. Some treatment modalities helped, some did not. At some point, a new military psychiatrist came into town, and all of a sudden I started hearing of clients being referred to hot yoga and mindfulness meditation (MBSR) classes. This, in the early 2000s, was very unusual in our neck of the woods.
By Meaghan Welfare, Conflict Management Practitioner
In today’s workplace we can be certain of only three things: there will be change, there will be stress and there will be conflict. It’s inevitable. As we navigate through our work days, we are confronted with conflict on different scales: perhaps someone drank the last cup of coffee and didn’t make more, maybe someone jammed the photocopier and walked away, or maybe you are experiencing bullying and harassment. The fact of the matter is that conflict has an ubiquitous influence on our working relationships. A recent survey conducted by CPP Global found that employees spend an average of 2.8 to 3.3 hours a week dealing with conflict, (low level and un-escalated conflict) and human resource workers spend upwards of 51% of their week addressing conflicts. A 1996 study demonstrated that 42% of a manager’s time is spent on conflict-related negotiations.
So, the million dollar question…What can we do about this? While conflict is never truly preventable, we can learn effective approaches for maximizing positive outcomes and harnessing conflict to make it work for us.
Has your work changed?
Is there more stress and uncertainty in your job than there used to be?
57% of Canadians report high levels of stress
1/3 Canadians put work first and let it interfere with family
(Duxbury & Higgins, 2012)
In 1991, according to the Duxbury study on work-life balance, 46% of Canadians reported being satisfied with life. In 2012, it has plummeted to 23%. As many of you know first-hand, the recent economic downturn has led to significant budgetary compressions in the public purse. As a result, many of us working in the helping fields and in the civil service have experienced massive changes: layoffs, reorganizations, job abolitions, changes in mandate, elevated conflict and a lot of uncertainty and fear of what is yet to come. Over the past ten years, I have crisscrossed the country many times to offer compassion fatigue training in nearly every province and territory. During my workshops, I get to meet with public sector employees, health care workers and other helping professionals as well as with management and human resources. Lately, I have been hearing the same words from nearly everyone I meet: “change”, “stress”, “conflict”, “uncertainty” and “overload”.
Is this true for you as well?
(This article on Low Impact Debriefing is an updated version of our original 2008 post. Click here to download a pdf version of the article)
Helpers who bear witness to many stories of abuse and violence notice that their own beliefs about the world are altered and possibly damaged by being repeatedly exposed to traumatic material.
Karen Saakvitne and Laurie Ann Pearlman, Trauma and the Therapist (1995).
After a hard day…
How do you debrief when you have heard or seen hard things? Do you grab your closest colleague and tell them all the gory details? Do your workmates share graphic details of their days with you over lunch or during meetings?
When helping professionals hear and see difficult things in the course of their work, the most normal reaction in the world is to want to debrief with someone, to alleviate a little bit of the burden that they are carrying – it is a natural and important process in dealing with disturbing material. The problem is that we are often not doing it properly – we are debriefing ourselves all over each other, with little or no awareness of the negative impact this can have on our well-being.
Helpers often admit that they don’t always think of the secondary trauma they may be unwittingly causing the recipient of their stories. Some helpers (particularly trauma workers, police, fire and ambulance workers) tell me that sharing gory details is a “normal” part of their work and that they are desensitized to it, but the data on vicarious trauma show otherwise – we are being negatively impacted by the cumulative exposure to trauma, whether we are aware of it or not.
Every day this week, we are sharing with you some highlights of the upcoming Compassion Fatigue Conference June 4-5th. Today, it’s all about organizational health
What would you do if you were given carte blanche to design and implement a compassion fatigue initiative in your workplace?
Do you remember the last time you picked up a book that you could not put down until you had read every last word?
I just had that great pleasure with Laurie Barkin’s book The Comfort Garden: Tales from the Trauma Unit. This is a story of how a dedicated and highly experienced psychiatric nurse found her way into the depths of vicarious trauma and burnout and travelled her way back out again, having learned many important things along the way: Lessons about a dysfunctional health care system, the lack of support often experienced by patients and staff alike, about moral distress, repeated trauma exposure, about the price health care professionals pay when managed care has stripped away the structure that allowed them to do their work safely and ethically.
Sometimes I feel like that’s what we do at the hospital. We hold up the weight of the world. And, in doing so, we hear screams and witness the suffering that sometimes becomes our screams and our suffering, only we choke it back and continue bearing the weight without complaining and without acknowledging that we too need relief. L. Barkin “The Comfort Garden” (2011)
Just a quick note to let you know that the workshop “Navigating the Changing Landscape” orginally scheduled for January 2013 has been postponed to the Fall of 2013. We are currently looking at dates and will post them by the end of the week. Apologies for any inconvenience but some circumstances beyond our control have made it necessary to change the date.
Ontario Ombudsman André Marin recently released a damning report on how the Ontario Provincial Police and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services has handled Operational Stress Injury among its staff.
Ontario Ombudsman André Marin said today that 23 OPP officers have committed suicide since 1989, a total that exceeds the number of officers killed on duty over the same time period. (CBC News report Oct 24, 2012.)
Click here to download the full Ombudsman’s report “In the Line of Duty”
Pour obtenir le rapport en francais, cliquer ici
Click here for CBC’s coverage of Marin’s press conference on October 24, 2012.
Dr Joan Borysenko
Wow – What a party!!! For those of you who were among the participants of the second annual compassion fatigue conference, which was held last week in Kingston, a great big thank you for your amazing positive energy, laughter and willingness to share and connect. I promised to share some resources with participants, particularly Dr Linda Duxbury’s reports, so they are available below.
Dr Linda Duxbury
An overloaded tree in Watson Lake, Yukon
Hi, I’m back! My blog has been quiet as I was on the road pretty much the whole month: I spent a week in the Yukon with Victim Services, a week in Cuba for a holiday with family, two days in Ottawa running a Train the Trainer session, what felt like ten minutes in Halifax for a workshop with Victim Services and finally three days of training in Kingston. Hectic? You bet. Rewarding and replenishing? Absolutely. I am often told “Françoise, you are a busy person” and I would agree that I tend to like things on the active side, but there is a tremendous difference between being busy and being overwhelmed. I think it really depends on the nature of what you are doing and how much support you have at home.