Kathleen Guarino discusses the importance self-care for people in the services profession from the perspective of the overall organization. This resource is an adaptation from a more in-depth look at how an organization can assess the health of the work environment.
Taking care of our emotional, physical, spiritual, and relational needs is essential to our success and well-being. How we take care of ourselves at work is an important aspect of our overall self-care. Those of us who work in the helping professions frequently find ourselves in situations where we are doing emotionally intense work with few resources and supports. Significant job stressors that providers face on a daily basis may include large workloads, paperwork, little time to complete tasks, and, sometimes, a sense that their work is not valued (American Psychological Association, 2004). Providers working with clients who have experienced traumatic life events are exposed to the additional stress associated with bearing witness to these experiences. Listening to intense and traumatic stories daily and observing the impact of these experiences on clients can have a significant impact on how providers view themselves, their work, and the world around them. This can lead to post-traumatic stress responses similar to those of the clients being served. Such a change in the provider’s view of self and other is known as “vicarious traumatization” and can add an additional and more personally intense and life-altering layer to what may already be a stressful job experience (Pearlman and Saakvitne, 1995).
Self-care within an organization is the responsibility of both the individual and the larger system. Employees can work to manage their own stress levels by engaging in personal self-care activities. However, organizations also play a key role in supporting employees in their efforts to balance their lives and keep the stress level manageable. As employees become increasingly overwhelmed and burned out, the organization itself becomes ineffective and unhealthy. A lack of organizational health often breeds further frustration, hopelessness, and lack of control among employees. This level of stress can compromise an organization’s ability to maintain staff, do quality work, and ultimately, to fulfill their mission and goals. Organizational self-care refers to both individual self-care on the job and the creation of healthy work environments where a culture of self-care is a priority.
Evaluating your Organizational Self-Care Practices
After evaluating the stress level of your organization and determining what you find helpful during stressful times, you can begin to think about ways that your organization can create a healthier work environment that supports both individual and organizational self-care. Such an approach supports productivity, service delivery, and staff well-being.
Guarino, K., Soares, P., Konnath, K., Clervil, R., and Bassuk, E. (2007). Trauma-Informed Organizational Self-Assessment for Programs Serving Families Experiencing Homelessness. Rockville, MD: Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Daniels Fund, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and the WK Kellogg Foundation.
American Psychological Association. (2004). Mind/body health: Job stress. Retrieved May 5, 2008, from http://apahelpcenter.org/articles/article.php?id=104
Pearlman, L. and Saakvitne, K. (1995). Trauma and the therapist: Countertransference and vicarious traumatization in psychotherapy with incest survivors. W.W. Norton: New York.