Developing resilience as a mental health practitioner
Developing resilience as a mental health practitioner
We often hear about the importance of developing resilience as a mental health practitioner. Patients often look up to the mental health practitioner or therapist as a role model enroute to better psychological well-being. The therapist has to hear and counsel clients, each of whom bring their own problems and concerns, causing immense stress. Mental healthcare practitioners have to be resilient to deal with all this.
What is resilience?
Resilience is the ability of a person to face challenging situations without giving up. Adverse situations are a given for all everyone. One may face difficult situations at various points of life – childhood, adolescence, adulthood, middle age and old age. One may think that with age, one becomes resilient given that the individual would have faced numerous challenges earlier in life. This is not true. Some examples are the recent suicide by a 80+ years old person in Maharastra India and the suicide by a billionaire in the late 70’s in the US.
Some individuals have the ability to cope not only with adverse situations but actually thrive. A combination of individual, family and societal factors play a significant role in the individual developing resilience. Mental health practitioners are especially required to be resilient given that they are dealing with clients and patients needing help with their mental well-being. Mental health practitioners are required to adjust to the pressures of external and internal factors. They are expected to show mental, emotional and behavioural flexibility and agility to handle tough and stressful situations. Resilience is certainly something that can be developed and practiced. Dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity demands resilience. One is expected to deal with stress associated with uncertainty and a hostile environment, recover to the normal state after any abrupt disruption, with the pace of recovery being high leading to a situation where the person thrives in the changed environment. The state of well-being relates to the level of psychological resilience.
Mental healthcare professionals and burnout
Mental healthcare professionals are subject to various stresses. Factors shaping these stresses emanate from emotional, cognitive and environmental factors, among others. Resilience can be sought to be built among mental health professionals at an individual, team and organisational level. Burnout in mental health professionals can be caused due to several factors such as overwork, fatigue, conflicts with doctors, peers and colleagues, improper self-care and a feeling of inadequacy as far as providing patient care is concerned. The consequences of all these can be negative and traumatic leading to irritability, emotional exhaustion and a feeling of unhappiness and depression. Interestingly age, experience, education do not seem to have any influence on resilience. Resilient mental healthcare professionals exhibit competence, have a positive outlook, build strong social relationships, are optimistic and are spiritual in their outlook. Burnout is often associated with an individual. The onus is on the individual to adapt to adversity to prevent burnout. It has increasingly come to be recognised as a workplace problem than merely being an individual problem. Many mental healthcare professionals may have their own individual practices, in such cases it is left to the individual to use social and family support systems in addition to individual mechanisms to cope with stress. In the case of large clinics and hospitals, burnout can be minimised by creating a workplace environment where a caring environment is fostered with proper work-life balance. Sources of stress are identified and dealt with appropriately. An open and compassionate culture can go a long way in nurturing a favourable workplace environment.
How to nurture and build resilience?
Some mental conditions associated with poor and inadequate resilience include showing indifference, being self-absorbed, anxiety, highly emotional behaviour, psychosis and displaying socially isolated behaviour. Mental healthcare professionals who show resilience display optimism, appropriate social behaviour, competence, self-control, and self-confidence as behavioural traits. Building resilience needs to be a three-pronged effort – individual, team and the organisation. Individual practitioners should focus on the ways an individual can build resilience and harness it further with family and societal help. At the individual level, one can foster a sense of humour, develop control over one’s emotions, nurture a positive view and opinion of oneself, remaining hopeful and optimistic, paying attention to oneself, eating nutritious food, exercising and sleeping well, accepting change and building networks, developing team working through collaboration and communication, developing problem solving and critical thinking skills and dealing with pressure using mindfulness and meditation. The team can help build resilience by encouraging open and honest communications, encouraging discussions with other team members, acknowledging other people’s views, active listening and problem solving, mentorships and getting support from colleagues. The organisation can help too by recruiting people with shared values, setting expectations through the process of induction and onboarding, organising health and well-being initiatives, training programs to manage stress and encouraging learning and development.
Resilience can be physical (how well a person recovers from illness, injuries and how well the body deals with change), mental (how well does a person deal with abstract and ambiguous ideas, diffused situations, and change), emotional (how well does a person control emotion in periods of high stress) and social (how well does a person connects with others to resolve problems that impact individuals and groups of individuals). Mental healthcare workers are subject to various stresses due to the very nature of their profession where they are expected to hear and resolve issues and concerns of the mentally disturbed and agitated patients and clients. Mental healthcare workers can respond to stressful situations in different ways. Everyone can develop skills that enforce resilience. As a soft skill that is directly correlated to performance and career success, resilience can be built in individuals through a combination of individual, team, and organisational initiatives. Mental healthcare workers should invest time and resources in building resilience lest they fall prey to the very conditions that they treat in their patients and clients.