As AK Child & Family conintues its self care focus this month, we turn our attention to emotional self care. Emotional self care (as opposed to our last blog on physical self care) focuses on feelings of acceptance and value, feeling control over the events around us, feeling competant in our day to day, and feeling emotionally safe.
Indivuduals that work in the mental health field have those feelings challenged day to day by clients, families, and sometimes even the systems they work in.This is why extra focus on emotional self care when working in a helping proffession is vital for emotional well being and preventing vicarious trauma (the transformation in personality of a trauma worker or helper that results from empathic engagement with traumatized clients and their reports of traumatic experiences. Vicarious trauma can be observed as disrupted spirituality, or a disruption in the trauma workers' perceived meaning and hope).
That being said, why is it that in the field of mental health some individuals that work closely with traumatized individuals are particularly sensitive to vicarious trauma while others are not? The answer to that is not entirely clear, although there have been studies indicating that helpers that have their own personal trauma histories can be particularly sensitive to vicarious trauma. In addition, helpers who are newer to the work environment, who have had little or no past or ongoing supervision, and who experience high job related stress are vulnerable to emotional and vicarious trauma. (From “Self Care for Trauma Psychotherapists and Caregivers: Individual, Social, and Organizational Interventions”).
Does this mean that if you have had a personal trauma or are new to the field you are no longer qualified to work in a helping profession? No. What it does mean is that we need to be realistic about our own trauma and experience and how it affects our interactions and personal wellbeing. It is our responsibility as caregivers to increase our self awareness, recognize when and why we are vulnerable to vicarious trauma, and take steps to keep ourselves and our clients emotionally safe.
SOME COMMONLY OVERLOOKED CAUSES OF EMOTIONAL TRAUMA CAREGIVERS MAY EXPERIENCE WHICH CAN LEAVE THEM OPEN TO VICARIOUS TRAUMA:
• Falls or injuries
• A sudden death of someone close (not necessarily a family member)
• A car accident
• The breakup of a significant relationship
• A humiliating or deeply disappointing experience
• The discovery of a life threatening illness or disabling condition
SOME SYMPTOMS OF EMOTIONAL OR VICARIOUS TRAUMA:
• “Catching feelings” of youth or experiencing similar feelings as the people you are helping; over-identification with youth.
• Insomnia or nightmares
• Feeling sad or hopeless
• Difficulty concentrating
• Anxiety or fear
• Withdrawing from others
• Anger, irritability, or mood swings
• Adopting the role of “rescuer” and taking an overly- protective role for the client.
• Edginess or agitation, loss of patience
• Difficulty with professional boundaries
• Low job satisfaction
SOME EMOTIONAL SELF CARE SUGGESTIONS:
• Don’t isolate. Ask for support from a supervisor, friend, trusted family member or counselor.
• Research your organizations Employee Assistance Programs.
• Become aware of your language and what you say to yourself. Remember how you speak about yourself (and others) is linked to emotions.
• Become aware of your responses to the youth and families you work with. If you start to notice a decrease in compassion and increase in reactive responses to behaviors, it may be time to take a break.
• Take time out to reflect on what is bothering you through journaling or talking it out with a trusted (solution focused) individual. Avoid falling into gossip and “victim bonding” with other individuals that may also be experiencing vicarious trauma.
• Set good limits and boundaries, not just on your physical time but your emotional time.
• Cut back on the time you spend with people who don’t make you feel good, or spend time with them in a group rather than one-on-one.
• Schedule a date night with your significant other and reconnect.
• Plan a night out with friends that leave you feeling energized.
• If there is a particular youth or family that has been leaving you particularly drained, talk to your team about it. See what you can all do together to redistribute some of the emotional load.
Not all self care techniques work for everyone, so it is very important to focus on creating a plan that works for you. And of course, reach out for help if you are experiencing symptoms of emotional or vicarious trauma. This is not only good self care for you; it is ultimately in the best interest of the youth and families you work with to prevent both vicarious trauma (for you) and re-traumatization (of youth and families).