Who is Helping the Helpers?

08/02/2017 01:09 pm ET

Doctors. Nurses. Paramedics and EMTs. Police. Firefighters.

We look to these professionals for help and comfort in our times of crisis, be it related to our health or safety. But we must remember, that by being there for us, these first responders and front-line caregivers put themselves in danger every day; not just physically, but emotionally. These men and women operate under the constant stress of emergency situations, forced to act as "anchors" for those of us who are emotionally or physically injured, as well as for our anxious families. This reality results in high levels of "compassion fatigue" for those who struggle to provide us support, while themselves remaining resilient. Because of this, they-our doctors, nurses, EMTs, police and firefighters- are at increased risk for long-term complications from post-traumatic stress.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than in Israel, where the stress of a being a first-responder is compounded by living under the very real and constant threat of violence or terror.

One might ask, "who is helping our helpers" or "how do they cope"?

In Israel, the answer is NATAL: Israel Trauma and Resiliency Center.

Since 2012, NATAL has been able to provide essential training workshops to these "helpers" in 21 hospitals across the nation. In fact, some of these hospitals (Soroka hospital, Tel Hashomer and Hadassah) have received ongoing trainings for three consecutive years now.

These training modules are intended to give nurses and medical teams much needed emotional support and resiliency training as well as coping tools for the emergency situations daily they face on a daily basis. Participants receive information on psychological responses to trauma, learn practical tools to improve their resilience and coping, and go through a process that strengthens relationships and interpersonal support within their group. Since November 2016, following requests from the field, a significant portion of the workshops' content is dedicated to the sensitive training of delivering bad news to patients and families.

To date, NATAL has trained over 1,000 nurses and medical staff for thousands of hours of resiliency training. Following these sessions, participants reported feeling:

  • more confident in their ability to work professionally as helpers during a crisis situation;
  • more satisfied and happy with their work as helpers;
  • less "burned out" and less affected by their patients' traumatic or adverse experiences; and,
  • almost all participants felt the workshops were relevant to their work, and would recommend them to others.

NATAL has also been working extensively with Police and Paramedics throughout Israel to make sure they, too, are able to process and recover from the traumas they encounter in their day-to-day work to better be there to help other Israelis in crisis. In recent years, NATAL has trained over 6,500 Israeli National Police and Border-patrol active service members, from nearly all operational and HQ units, to include; YAMAM (Swat and special operations); undercover special units; K9 and Bomb squads; Motorcycle units, automobile accidents investigators and highway patrol units; detectives, precincts, police attorneys, HR managers and many more.

With most, NATAL offers resilience workshops that are part of the unit's annual training programming. In typical two-day sessions, NATAL enhances the unit's cohesion and provides knowledge and exercises working with various stress coping protocols. Using indoor and outdoor settings, programs are specifically tailored for each unit, in accordance with the individual needs and challenges each group faces and that their command shares.

For example, for Automobile Accident Investigators, who gets called daily to horrific accident scenes, NATAL created and provided a mental health "tool kit" to prepare them mentally and emotionally before arriving to the scene, to concentrate on the "professional" part of the work - collecting evidence, forensic issues etc., and on small but effective rituals of self-care as they unwind and download back at the office, at home and with their loved ones.

For Undercover Units who work around the clock in special operations of arresting suspects, handling riots, and doing other clandestine work, the core issue identified was the constant hyper-arousal the officers faced in the shifts of adrenaline between times of training and calm to being out there putting their lives on the line of fire. By carefully mentoring the commanding officers and team leaders, and by introducing a structured operational-mental debriefing that is held by the commanders, NATAL managed to help the undercover tactical force servicemen sustain wellness and undercover units be better prepared operationally.

For Notification Police Officers, the small group of officers that have the unbearable job of notifying families about the loss of loved ones in violent crime and car accidents, NATAL conduct monthly full-day stress inoculation trainings and ventilating sessions. Horseback riding, canoeing and SUP rowing or rock climbing is combined with professional group facilitated psychological work, aimed to care for these brave and sensitive men and women, in their holy work.

Today, NATAL also works with the volunteers from both ZAKA and United Hatzalah to help these selfless men and women process the traumas they encounter in their invaluable work in response to violence and terror attacks.

All of these groups are part of the very special fabric that is Israel and we must ensure they are able to continue being there, as sources of strength and resiliency in times of need. A path to healing is necessary for all of those impacted by trauma, even those who have dedicated themselves to helping others to find their own roads to recovery.

Thankfully, NATAL is here to help these helpers.

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