What can help us in helping others - Responding to the impacts of our work through self- and staff-care practices11.05.2020
Many development and peacebuilding organisations see the need to take the self-care and mental health of their staff seriously. However, many struggle to institutionalise effective mechanisms of self-care. The feminist development and women’s rights organisation medica mondiale shares some best practices and lessons learned from its work around the world.
Working tirelessly towards peace and justice in a world fraught with suffering and conflict can take its toll on us as transitional justice, development cooperation and trauma work professionals. When we work with people who have experienced hardship or conflict, their stories of adversity, suffering and trauma impact us, change us and even resonate with our own histories. Indeed, it is sometimes our own life stories that call us to do the work we do. In situations of war and conflict, staff of the organisations we work with are also impacted - directly and/or indirectly - by experiences of trauma and loss in their personal lives, in their families and in their communities. Furthermore, intersectional oppression may be intensified during conflict. These dynamics of violence and trauma can affect entire teams or organisations, resulting in overwork, team conflicts or burnout.
medica mondiale is a feminist women’s rights organisation that works with partners to support women* and girls* affected by gender-based and sexualised violence in conflict areas. In light of its experience, placing the responsibility of care on professionals through self-care practices is simply not enough. The term ‘self-care’ has gained popularity over the past decade as the antidote to chronic stress and burnout. Unfortunately, this trend often reflects a limited understanding of self-care that reduces the responsibility of wellbeing to the individual level, removing the responsibility of care from the workplace and from broader social structures that are meant to meet our needs for health, equality and justice.
In response to this, medica mondiale has developed a comprehensive staff-care concept which speaks to the role and responsibility of organisations in caring for the psychosocial wellbeing and safety of their staff and promotes healthy workplace dynamics in challenging environments. In order to address the cumulative psychosocial and emotional impacts of our work, we need to build awareness of the risks to our wellbeing and team dynamics and advocate for organisational practices and policies that counterbalance those impacts.
medica mondiale has been working with partner organisations in various regions and countries, such as Afghanistan, DRC, Liberia and the Kurdish Region of Iraq, to promote sustainable organisational cultures of staff-care. Although staff-care concepts need to be adapted to the specific needs of each organisation and its sociopolitical environment, some crucial recommendations can be generalised.
For one, it is important to sensitise management at an early stage to possible effects of exposure to trauma and work-related stress so that they can fully support the implementation of staff-care systems, workplace practices and policies as part of organisational development. Equally important is that these practices strengthen the positive impacts of our work, such as personal and professional growth and transformation, increased sense of meaning and purpose, vicarious resilience and occupational satisfaction.
Secondly, staff-care activities should be part of project proposals with clear indicators which can be integrated into the yearly planning processes.
Thirdly, lobby work with donors is necessary in order to raise awareness of the impacts of pressure resulting from unrealistic expectations of project outcomes, especially in organisations operating in war and conflict regions.
medica mondiale has piloted the “Mindful Organisational Culture” concept in order to integrate self- and staff-care throughout the organisation. It comprises several components, such as: developing policies and practices that promote safety as well as mental and physical health in staff, working with staff to strengthen individual self-care practices, providing regular access to team supervision to strengthen team dynamics and healthy resolution of issues, and building stress- and trauma-sensitive attitudes in staff to ensure they are well-prepared to respond to the psychosocial needs of colleagues and partners in an acute emergency.
The implementation of a staff-care concept is a challenging but rewarding task. Overall, medica mondiale and its partner organisations have noted that satisfaction with the work has increased, communication has improved, the ability to deal with difficult emotions and workload is higher, and staff members’ awareness of their own capacities and limitations has decreased the risk of burnout. Strengthening staff-care systems and self-care practices is our chance to counteract specific work-related stresses so that we can sustainably engage in a way which moves us all closer to peace in our societies.
Jennifer Marchandand Karin Griese, Trauma Work Department at medica mondiale.
Achtsame Organisationskultur©, copyright Maria Zemp and medica mondiale.
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Jennifer Marchand is a Canadian psychotherapist and trauma treatment specialist currently working as a trauma advisor and trainer for medica mondiale, with a focus on the implementation of stress- and trauma-sensitive health care services for survivors of gender-based violence in conflict-affected countries.
Karin Griese is a German sociologist, trauma counsellor and head of the trauma work department at medica mondiale. She technically accompanied the introduction of a staffcare concept at medica mondiale headoffice.
Exposure to trauma and bereavement is common in conflict-affected regions. It affects indivduals and whole societies. Enjoying peace after the crisis is often impossible. How helpful is trauma resolution to the prevention of future conflicts? Who does trauma therapy address? Are there best-practice examples in post-crisis countries?
Cordula Reimann, from core
For many organisations working in development and peacebuilding, trauma prevention and trauma sensitivity have become important guiding principles of their work in general and their specific activities on Dealing with the Past in particular.
In this edition of the FriEnt blog, we could win academic scholars and practitioners to reflect on their analytical concepts and practical experiences around trauma work and why this concept is relevant for successful dealing with the past processes and how it can be translated and applied in the actual peacebuilding practice. Trauma work refers here to all pro-active approaches and strategies to address and transform the destructive dynamics and consequences of trauma and traumatization on both an individual and a collective level.