The Five Pillars of Protection

How to Buffer the Impact of Professional Trauma and Fatigue

Sass’s blog about Professional Trauma and Fatigue illustrated what we are at risk of as practitioners in Human Services. Now I want to show you how to protect yourself through The Five Pillars of Protection model, designed by us here at SelfCare Psychology to provide a buffer against the impact of professional trauma and fatigue. Based on Sass’s research and our combined twenty-five years’ plus of experience working in social care, it has evolved and grown through delivering our workshops and training. Our own experiences of struggling to stay well and safe whilst working alongside people's pain and trauma, has made us passionate about empowering those who support others.

So, what are these pillars? Awareness, Supervision, Peer Support, Self Care and Trauma Informed. Together these five pillars form a framework we can work within to minimise the impact of the work we do. There is no way to fully bulletproof ourselves. The nature of what we do will always affect us in some way. However, utilising this approach, and putting the effort into ourselves and our wellbeing as well as that of others will help to mitigate this impact.

Our pillars are designed so that wherever you are now, and whatever resources you have available to you, there is always something you can draw on and improve. Manager not supportive with supervision? Look to your peer support. Peer support already great? How about focusing on your self care regime. Pick what works for you in the here and now. Here I’m sharing a quick overview, and over the next few weeks and months we’ll get deeper into the detail.

Pillar 1: Awareness

Awareness is the first key thing for us to focus on. If we’re unaware of the risks we’re exposing ourselves to as social workers, nurses, doctors, teachers, therapists and support workers, then we’re not going to be looking for signs it’s impacting us. If we don’t know about it, then we won’t be able to put measures in place to protect ourselves. If we don’t know about it, then we won’t be able to practice in ways that support us. Quite simply, awareness is crucial to all the other pillars. As I mentioned above, if this is your first read on our blog, check out What is Professional Trauma and Fatigue? for an overview of the risks.

Pillar 2: Supervision

What is supervision? It’s a good question, and answers vary wildly within professions and workplaces, never mind between sectors. We’re talking about good quality, supportive supervision, that isn’t all about performance management. Supervision that tackles the ‘you’ in your work and values it. We may not always have full control of our experiences in supervision, but we can make sure that we create the best environment for it to be successful and assert our right to quality support.

Pillar 3: Peer Support

We must support each other. And that support must be POSITIVE support. Our peers can lift us up, or conversely, they can drag us down. Too often we can become trapped in cycles of negativity and moaning with colleagues, which develops from a healthy vent, to a dreary pattern of negativity pulling us down. Check out this blog on how to deal with a consistently negative colleague in a positive way for some tips. Think about how you support your team. We have seen how this pillar can be strengthened quickly and effectively by passionate practitioners and teams. We are all responsible for the culture we create.

Pillar 4: Self Care

We need to look after ourselves. It’s really very simple, but also really very hard. As people who help professionally, we can get so caught up in prioritising the needs of others that we forget that we need to look after ourselves. And before we start on the ‘I haven’t got time’, ‘self care is selfish’ rhetoric, remember it’s ‘me too’, not me first. We can and should put our own wellbeing on an equal footing as that of those around us. If we don’t, what are we modelling to our families, colleagues and ultimately those we support? For a simple subject self-care generates a lot of discussion and illuminates some seriously ingrained barriers. We’ll be going into it in more detail later, but if you want to make a start, check out our SelfCare Cards for inspiration.

Pillar 5: Trauma Informed

Put in simple terms, this is the practice of creating environments which recognise that experiencing trauma, both first hand and secondarily, WILL have an impact. When we assume trauma as the standard and not the exception, we create systems, practices and processes that take it into account.

This matters for you as well as for clients. It can be as simple as coming out of a meeting where a client has disclosed abuse and giving yourself that five minutes outside to recover before getting on with other work. It’s about recognising that whether we are conscious of it or not, trauma is pervasive and overwhelming when we are surrounded by it, and we must put in place measures to support ourselves.

None of us are superhuman, and when we think we are we put ourselves and others at risk.

So there we have it, the Five Pillars of Protection at break neck speed! Stay tuned for more detail and practical ways to implement them, we’re working on resources to help. Please spread the message and share on social media, tagging us and using the hashtag #professionalselfcare and #selfcaresquad to help us build a workplace culture of selfcare. It’s not acceptable to lose talented, highly trained and phenomenally committed professionals in human services because we’re not encouraging them to look after themselves or each other.

While you’re at it, let us know your thoughts, suggestions, ideas for resources you would find useful and things you’d like to know more about. We’re all about supporting the frontline, and hearing from you helps us do it better.

Kate Collier is a Co-Founder here at Self Care Psychology. She originally trained as a social worker and has over a decade’s experience in frontline and management supporting women experiencing domestic abuse, addictions, and trauma, in custody and the community. Kate manages our Instagram and you can find her on twitter @LuckyLuckyKateC

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