Few periods of time have tested us more than the last couple years of a pandemic. Family & Children Services has served many in our community affected most by COVID. Our clients are those who are already struggling, but now have lost jobs, lost homes, and suffered additional emotional and mental distress. Food insecurity, domestic violence, homelessness, emotional challenges, all have increased during this pandemic.
Helping others cope with these challenges has added emotional and psychological challenges to our own team members of clinicians and social workers.
“We have lost close friends and loved ones while dealing with this health crisis,” said Ira Green, foster care supervisor. “We have had to change the way we live our lives and the way that we do our work. It has required resiliency on all our parts to make it through this time.”
Ira Green and Heather Spence, Family Center supervisor, were recently asked to address the topic of trauma and resilience with the staff of Family & Children Services and to provide education—and encouragement—on trauma-informed care.
“Initially, it felt impossible to address trauma without also including resilience,” Spence said. “To me, trauma is two-fold. While the clients and children we serve are working to process and overcome the trauma they have experienced, they are being nurtured and supported by the staff of Family & Children Services. This means that while staff may not have experienced the trauma firsthand, the nature of their role has included hearing and seeing some really tough stuff.”
In their recent presentation to staff, Spence and Green defined trauma as any distressing event or experience that can have an impact on the individual’s ability to cope and function.
Resilience is defined as the elastic ability of an object or substance to spring back into shape, and for a person, the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.
Psychological resilience means having the ability to cope with crisis mentally or emotionally, the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, tragedy, threats, and other challenges.
“You can’t help someone else breathe if you are struggling to breathe yourself,” Spence said. “This speaks to why staff resilience and trauma go hand in hand. Society tends to minimize secondary trauma experienced by care professionals and how difficult it can be to balance those experiences with your own daily needs. Even aside from dealing with a global pandemic and the other stresses of this past year, our staff continuously support others through some of the hardest times of their lives.”
To give coping tools to team members, Spence and Green first identified the attributes of resilient people—resilient people think positively, see challenges and take them on, commit to goals, focus on what they can control, do not blame themselves, and are empathetic.
“Resilience is something that can be learned,” Green said. “For some, determination and resilience come naturally, but for others of us, we have to learn it.”
Building resilience and protective factors against trauma require:
- Positive, realistic optimism
- Cognitive reappraisal, or the ability to reframe negative thoughts
- Social support and pro-social behavior, or acting for the benefit of others
- Health maintenance through nutrition, sleep, exercise
- Mindfulness, or staying in the present moment, and non-judgmental awareness of bodily sensations, emotions, and thoughts
- Humor, or not taking things too seriously
“Our presentation acknowledged the difficult nature of the work we do here, while also giving hope by shifting focus to how to remain resilient, and providing tangible tools for daily use,” Spence said. “We recommended tools such as keeping a gratitude journal, doing something just for the fun of it, taking a walk-in nature, practicing meditation, or doing a search for online resources of positive alternatives when you notice negative thoughts overtaking you.”