As clinicians, we are exposed daily to stories of our client’s pain, their chaotic lifestyles, their stories of abuse and trauma. We are trained to listen, to be empathic, and to be helpful. Most days we are able to do this on our own. Sometimes we may seek a colleague or clinical supervisor to process a particularly difficult session and hopefully find this helpful.
But what happens when an event or situation hits us? How does a caregiving organization help it’s staff when the “unthinkable” happens? In residential programs staff are sometimes verbally and/or physically assaulted. Clients sometime complete suicide. Violence happens in the workplace either committed by clients, or staff. A staff person dies unexpectedly (or expectedly). A co-worker commits a major breach of ethics or worse.
How do we respond to a clinical workplace incident when employees are reeling from their reactions to it? While at some level, they are still expected to take care of clients.
At Crisis Care Network, we suggest a potential four prong approach to these situations. The first effort is to recognize that these situations have a ripple effect throughout the organization, its staff, its clients, and possibly their Board of Directors. We start then by working with the management staff and how are they doing? We work with the leadership to determine the various “Circles of Impact” of an event and plan for a potential response for each circle. The type of intervention is determined by the expected “issues” that each group might be experiencing.
One intervention is an Educational Group Briefing to assist staff in understanding their reactions (if any) are pretty common and that they are likely to bounce back in a reasonably short time if they follow some basic suggestions. The interventionist proceeds from a position of expected recovery for all affected parties. The facilitator serves as a “conduit of information” by bringing in ideas that other people who have gone through similar events found helpful in getting through it.
Another group intervention is an Interactive Group Briefing, where the employees who might be experiencing more intense reactions to the event because of their relation to it (directly involved in the situation, close friends of the deceased, etc) have an opportunity to talk with each other about their reactions and thoughts concerning the event. The interventionist guides the discussion both to keep it on track and to validate the reactions of the participants. The facilitator seeks to gain information on how the participants might have handled other situations in their lives or careers that were helpful and might also expand on those ideas to give different ideas on things that they might try.
The fourth approach is being able to talk with employees one-on-one regarding their specific reactions to the event in a private manner.
But who should actually do the work? As clinicians we have to decide if we are far enough removed from the event to help our colleagues, or do we need an EAP that can help us, or do we need a trained specialist from outside the organization to provide the service. These are key questions to ask. It is best to ask them before an event hits your agency so that you know who in the community might actually be able to help if needed.
At the end of the intervention, the staff, clients, and others have a better understanding of their natural reactions and a “game plan” for taking care of themselves, for taking care of each other, and helping the organization return to what they do best, taking care of others.
About the Author:
Dennis Potter, LMSW, CAADC, CCS, FAAETS, serves Manager, Consultants Relations & Training at Crisis Care Network. He is a licensed social worker and certified addiction counselor. He has received training and supervision in Cognitive Therapy from the Beck Institute in Philadelphia, PA. He has participated in a train the trainer courses in Motivational Interviewing and has provided this training to a variety of mental health, substance abuse agencies and in the business community. He also provides training programs on various topics of mental health issues and treatment approaches, substance use disorders and treatment approaches, and critical incident stress management. Dennis helped to form one of the first community based Crisis Response Teams in the country. He was one of the founding members of the Mid-West Michigan CISM Team and the Michigan Crisis Response Association. Dennis is recognized as a Fellow, by the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. To achieve this credential, he completed a comprehensive application and examination, along with supporting documentation, to validate his experience in working with survivors of traumatic events, knowledge of the literature, and level of education.
About Crisis Care Network:
Crisis Care Network is a nationwide provider of critical incident response services. Over 1000 times per month Crisis Care Network deploys specialists to various workplace settings following critical incidents. We are continuously searching for independently licensed mental health providers with the certified training or experience in workplace trauma. For more information please visit: www.crisiscare.co