It is important to recognise the impact just hearing about domestic and family violence can have on you as a health professional. Below are some tips on how to look after yourself whilst dealing with difficult situations.
Always keep your own safety in mind – never meet with clients/patients alone if you are unsure of the potential for violence. Think about your workplace and environment and ensure you have options to safely and quickly exit if needed. Avoid confrontation. Remain calm with agitated clients. Reflect feelings (rather than dismissing or minimising them).
There is substantial evidence to show that repeated exposure to the trauma of others can itself become a form of trauma. This is different to ‘burnout,’ where persistent workplace stress takes its toll emotionally. Vicarious trauma has symptoms in common with PTSD and clinical depression, including sleep disturbance and nightmares, intrusive cognitions and can substantially alter a worker’s perception of their safety, security and place in the world if left unchecked.
Strategies useful for avoiding vicarious trauma include:
- Debriefing through supervision
- Maintaining good social connections inside and outside the workplace, and;
- Actively pursuing a self-care routine.
Develop a routine for self-care that includes getting regular professional supervision as well as seeking opportunities to debrief with colleagues.
Look after your physical well-being with regular exercise, a good diet and get plenty of rest. Some health professionals find it useful to keep a journal of their thoughts, but look for opportunities to distract as well: watch movies, read books, catch up with friends, etc. Take the time to check in with yourself to make sure you’re okay and seek support if you feel like things are getting on top of you or if particular cases continue to stay ‘front of mind’.