Helping professionals are experts at listening to, understanding and representing others. Frontline helpers work with those experiencing chronic mental illnesses, abuse, trauma, sexual assault or domestic violence. In short, they represent people who are highly at risk and carry a multitude of complex needs.
With such a daunting duty statement, it is understandable most frontline helpers are chronically busy. It is similarly understandable that cases of burnout, compassion fatigue and trauma-related injuries are widespread.
It is understandable, but not acceptable. There is so much more we can do to assist our helpers who are feeling isolated and unsupported. For starters, we can provide them with the time and space to undertake four simple tasks, which will substantially minimise their risk of psychological injury.
- Keep a life outside work, friendships, holidays, romance, exercise and hobbies. What brings you joy and replenishes your energy?
- Develop your assertiveness muscle. Read about it, talk about it, practice it and take your cue from others who do this well. Being assertive about your own needs is worthy of practice, practice, practice.
- Garner resources and be informed. Read and understand the Health and Safety Act 2011 and the Codes of Practice that relate to your area. Ask what support or assistance your entitled to receive. Ask your Human Resources officer or your Health and Safety unit. Ask a representative from the relevant peak body (eg, the Australian Association of Social Workers or the Australian Psychological Society) or union.
- Remind yourself of who you are – your identity, your values and your worth. Surround yourself with those who know your worth and won’t let you forget your big, juicy self!
There is, of course, more to the prevention of trauma-related injury than can be summed up in four dot points. I have no doubt there are many helpers crying out that they’ve tried all of the above suggestions and are still feeling isolated, unsafe or just plain miserable. For these helpers, it is probably time to walk out and find a more supportive workplace.
I’m not suggesting this is an easy decision. There are several reasons helpers hesitate to write that resignation letter.
I get it. The reason you’re feeling burnt out is because you’ve been working far too hard for far too long. Stop juggling All The Balls and take a moment to brush up your CV. Find a coach or mentor to obtain advice about interviewing skills and writing to selection criteria. Don’t let yourself become lost in a litany of daily ‘To Do’ lists. Schedule time for you.
I understand. When you’re lacking in energy and your self-esteem is low, job-searching can seem like an insurmountable task. Talk to your GP or psychologist and keep up the all-important self-care. Consider taking a sabbatical, returning to study or entering a different line of work. It doesn’t have o be forever – just until you’re feeling more yourself.
Don’t trap your fabulous self into a schedule of daily misery just because of bills. Figure out a savings plan, talk to the bank or financial advisor. Take a part-time or casual job (again, it doesn’t have to be forever), minimize your debts and stick to a budget.
No! Your feelings of shame are indicative of burnout and trauma. You’ve done all the training that qualifies you for your profession and I’ll bet your good at what you do. Think about why you entered the helping profession and maybe list some of your achievements since then. Remind yourself you’re so much more than a job, a workplace or career.
Yes, that’s probably all true and, no, it’s not your problem. Work allocation and employee turnover are systemic issues to be solved by those higher up the departmental food chain. Remember, put your health (both physical and mental) first and everything else will fall into place.