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Wellbeing and self-care

  • Working with people who have experienced violence and trauma is extremely demanding work
  • It is normal to have both positive and negative to the work
  • It is important to understand the possible risk factors and do things to support your wellbeing at work and in your personal life
  • 1800RESPECT can provide counselling, information and referral for anyone supporting people who have experienced sexual, domestic and family violence. You can call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732, text 0458 737 732 or visit our website for online chat and video call services:
    • Available 24/7: Call, text or online chat
    • Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm AEST (except national public holidays): Video call (no appointment needed) 

What is self-care?

Working with people who have experienced sexual assault or domestic and family violence is extremely demanding work. It is quite normal to have a range of responses both positive and negative to the work. Being aware of the potential impact of this work on your own wellbeing and taking steps to minimise the negative impacts are important strategies of self-care.

Self-care broadly refers to a range of personal and professional skills and behaviours that contribute your wellbeing and the maintenance of effective performance at work and in your personal life.

Self-care can be considered in terms of:

  1. General principles that can be integrated into daily life
  2. Strategies that can be implemented at work when working with people impacted by sexual assault and domestic and family violence

Why is self-care important?

There can be a range of potential negative outcomes from working with people who have experienced violence. These can include but are not limited to:

  • A preoccupation with a client’s experience
  • Decreased frustration tolerance
  • A dread of working with some types of clients
  • Loss of hope
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Depression and difficulties in separating work from home
  • In some cases professionals working in this field experience secondary traumatisation and develop clinically significant traumatic stress and PTSD

Factors that increase the risk of for professionals of being negatively impacted can include:

  • Working with someone who is dealing with a situation not dissimilar to the worker’s own situation and identification with those affected
  • Working over a long period of time in the field – that is, having repeated exposure to the traumatic stories of clients over time
  • Being overburdened with complex cases
  • Dealing with clients without sufficient training
  • Inadequate supervision and professional training
  • Periods of personal illness
  • Lack of balance between personal and work time
  • Poor boundaries and coping skills
  • Lack of knowledge regarding the potential for secondary traumatisation

How can I look after my wellbeing at work?

It is important to understand the possible risk factors and look at implementing strategies that support your wellbeing at work and in your personal life. If you are able to maintain your wellbeing you will be more effective in your work and in your personal life and relationships.

Things you can do to help yourself

  • Limit your work hours to no more than eight or ten hours a day
  • Take frequent brief breaks from the work to clear your head and think about different things — for example, go for a walk, grab a cup of tea and chat to a colleague
  • Maintain a good diet — eating healthy foods and keeping up your fluid intake
  • Exercise — sometimes only a brief thirty minute session of exercise can be very helpful in maintaining a clear head and a positive outlook
  • Stay connected to your friends and family
  • Talk about your emotions, and process difficult situations and client work with your supervisor or trusted colleague
  • Do some meditation, yoga or other mindfulness activity, that assists you to focus on your inner self
  • Seek counselling if you need to further process your experiences with clients and its impact on you

Signs you may require extra support

  • Difficulty in communicating your thoughts or remembering directions from your manager
  • Difficulty in making decisions and limited attention span
  • Being uncharacteristically argumentative, easily frustrated, general irritation, loss of objectivity, refusal to follow reasonable directions from your manager
  • Unnecessary risk taking, increased use of alcohol or other drugs
  • Increased headaches and other physical symptoms
  • Inability to sleep — intrusive thoughts
  • Inability to switch off from work
  • Poor professional boundaries

General techniques of self-care

  • Setting and maintaining boundaries involves knowing at a psychological level where you stop and where another person begins. It refers also to knowing the difference between what your emotions are and what belongs to someone else. While this sounds quite simple, it can be quite easy to take on the emotions, thoughts and worries of others. Learning how to set and maintain boundaries involves reflective practice.
  • Self-nurturing strategies involves knowing how to look after yourself emotionally. It will mean different things to different people and can include things like, exercise, engaging in hobbies, spending time with people you find supportive or good company, avoiding excessive use of alcohol and having a good diet.
  • Self-awareness involves having a good understanding of what one is feeling and why. This understanding is developed over time by attending to one’s thoughts and feelings, interpreting and becoming familiar with them. You might ask yourself: Why am I feeling this way? This is the first step in acknowledging there is a problem and gaining clarity about how you can take steps to deal with it.
  • Reflective Practice refers to the process of thinking about your work with the view to understanding and evaluating both the work and your responses to it. There are many different frameworks for reflective practice. The following questions is a process that may assist in undertaking reflective practice:
    • What are my thoughts about this work?
    • What happened – what was the sequence of events?
    • What were the main issues?What would my supervisor have suggested?
    • What would I suggest to someone who asked my opinion about this?
    • What would I have done differently?
    • Where does this leave me now? How do I feel about the work? How do I feel now? Are these feelings related to work? If so, how?
  • Professional Supervision refers to the process by which a worker (supervisee) meets regularly with a more senior member of their profession (supervisor) on a regular basis. The aims of supervision may vary and are dependent upon the specific agreement between supervisee and supervisor, but can include:
    • Ensuring that clients are receiving appropriate and adequate support
    • Assisting in the development of broad or specific clinical skills
    • Assisting in the development of self-management skills as they relate to work, for example, prioritising work, responses to work, time management
    • Assisting in understanding and managing organisational issues
    • Identifying personal issues that the supervisee may need to work on in a different forum
  • Sleep Strategies play an important role in physical and mental wellbeing. The following strategies may assist:
    • Using a sleep ritual so that the body can gradually unwind such as a bath, shower or gentle stretching
    • Being aware of your ‘sleep windows’ and following your body’s natural rhythm
    • Having a regular sleep-wake schedule by getting up at the same time every morning
    • Engaging in relaxation exercises