Pre COVID we read a lot about compassion fatigue and burnout. These terms are commonly used by health care providers and educators. Understandably healthcare educators want to help the helper by teaching good self-care strategies to physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals. While self-care methods are very important; I want to stress that these methods are not the be all end all to dealing with compassion fatigue. Yes, we need to exercise, eat well and sleep well. We need to participate in meaningful activities and maintain things that we find pleasurable in our life, however, if any symptoms of traumatic stress are not dealt with through evidence-based processing treatment modalities, these symptoms will only get worse and eventually become so difficult to maintain that post-trauma injury could end up being a reality in your everyday life.
Symptoms of nightmares, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, hypervigilance, being “on,” or sped up, feeling numb or disconnected in your off-hours, irritability and an inability to feel empathy or any feeling other than anger are the realities of ongoing traumatic stress.
What if I told you that it doesn’t have to be this way and that you can use evidence-based treatment to not only help with these symptoms but you can also use evidence-based treatment as a preventative. You can see to it that you maintain your psychological health so that you don’t end up with these symptoms ever.
If you are a physician and you are already struggling it’s not too late. You can get the help that you need to be free of post-trauma injuries.
These Trauma symptoms are a direct result of ongoing traumatic stress, not a mental illness. These symptoms are normal responses to trauma.
The brain has a funny way of trying to process stressful incidents through intrusive thoughts, (flashes or images that come into your mind of the incident) or through flashbacks.
While first responders are very good at containing stressful events in order to continue working, this ability will become a deficit over time. It’s exactly the act of pushing a stressful incident down or aside that causes trauma to get trapped in the nervous system and brain.
Trauma in the nervous system looks like hypervigilance irritability, quick to anger and racing thoughts or feeling numb and disconnected with addictive behaviours to cope.
Trauma in the brain looks like intrusive thoughts, nightmares, night terrors or ruminations of parts of the incident over and over again.
EMDR ( eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) is a proven method of helping the brain desensitize disturbing images, sensations, thoughts and emotions that are connected to a stressful incident. EMDR can reduce and eliminate post-trauma injuries and be used as a preventative for PTSD.
While EMDR is very effective it is important that you receive this treatment from a certified EMDR therapist that specifically works with protocols researched to work with ongoing traumatic stress. EMDR in general while helpful, can make things worse if the therapist does not have specific training on how to apply EMDR with ongoing traumatic stress.
Only specific researched EMDR protocols for first responder groups are effective for populations who have been exposed to ongoing traumatic groups.
Even more advantageous for first responder groups is EMDR in a group. In a group setting, you simply experience the protocol with your colleagues. In the group, you do not talk about the incident. Instead, you follow the facilitator’s instructions and process the incident privately with other colleagues in a group setting. The advantage to this is community and privacy at the same time! Group EMDR can help an entire team who may have experienced the same incident. Ultimately the group EMDR advantage is that the treatment takes less time. What would normally take four months of individual sessions could be completed in a weekend intensive session.
I encourage you to seek out help so that you do not end up with debilitating symptoms that could affect your quality of life. Reach out now and do yourself a big favour. Whether you are reaching out as a preventative measure or a treatment the right EMDR therapy can make a big difference in your career as a first responder.
Crystal Arber is a registered social worker and registered clinical counsellor who is a certified EMDR therapist and approved EMDRIA consultant. She also teaches EMDR with the BC school of psychology and provides webinars for EMDR therapists on how to use EMDR with specific populations. She uses EMDR to treat ongoing traumatic stress with first responder groups and health care workers. If you are interested in booking a group EMDR session with your team or seeing her individually for EMDR please contact her.