CISM News

July 15, 2024
   

Strengthening Wellness For Public Safety

By: Rich Creamer

Discover how community support and organizational initiatives are transforming first responders’ social wellness, enhancing mental health, job satisfaction, and family relationships.

Healing Through Helping Others

By: Robert Keddie

Explore firsthand how CISM training equips individuals to provide crucial support in times of crisis, enhancing mental health and well-being.

 

“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the 

compassionate actions of its members.”

– Coretta Scott King

“We’re all just walking each other home.”

– Ram Dass

July 12, 2024

HEALING THROUGH HELPING OTHERS

By: Robert Keddie

 

I have worked for the British Columbia Wildfire Service (branch of the Ministry of Forests) for 33 years and have been a dedicated peer member of our Critical Incident Stress Management Team for well over a decade now, and I can tell you that my CISM training has made a positive impact in almost every part of my personal and professional life. Helping others was always my primary purpose in being a member of the Critical Incident Stress Management program but soon after joining the Team I started realizing the overall personal benefits that have now become too numerous to state in a short article. I sincerely recognize and give credit to my training and affiliation with CISM for giving me the strength, tools, and motivation to improve my own personal growth and mental health. 

Until October of 2010, I really had little to no knowledge of what a critical incident even was, until one regular workday “in the middle of nowhere” when a few colleagues and I, witnessed and responded to a workplace traumatic accident that ultimately resulted in the death of an individual we knew and respected. At the time, I was not aware that this event would have the profound effect on my life that resulted thereafter. 

Early the next morning four people (only one I recognized) showed up onsite and announced that they were from the Ministry of Forests, Critical Incident Stress Management Team and were there to do a defusing with the people involved in the incident. That gesture of our employer to send a crew of individuals hundreds of miles into the wilderness to ensure we were okay was by itself enough to give me the sense that somebody does care. What resulted in the next few hours through compassionate discussion, guided communication, and proven education was something that I will forever be thankful for. While I never expected to recover from this event overnight, I left that worksite later the following day with a full comprehension of what transpired in the event itself, validation of my thought’s, reactions, and feelings, and most importantly, a true understanding of what was possibly to come on my recovery journey ahead. I also solidified that sense I mentioned earlier, and I was relieved to know that my organization does care and was committed to doing whatever is necessary to facilitate healing for all involved.

A year and a half after this event I viewed an email recruiting like-minded individuals to become a peer member of the Ministry of Forests, CISM Team. In the moments after I reflected on what the Critical Incident Stress Management did for me, and my mental health, I instantly had an overwhelming desire to give back and try and become part of the CISM program to provide that service to others out of gratitude and my personal belief in the process. 

Fast forward a dozen years, I am now a senior member of this dedicated team and I still have that sense of satisfaction when we go into traumatic events and assist individuals in their recovery journey as it was provided to me so many years ago. Over those years I have been fortunate to deliver CISM sessions alongside some of the same individuals that were facilitating my Critical Incident defusing back in 2010 and today I consider them lifelong friends that I will always respect and admire. The new individuals that gravitate to CISM and join our team every so often, replacing peers that have changed Ministries or retired, all seem to be cut from the same mold. They have that same compassion, empathy, and care for our Ministry staff around the province that is so vital within successful Critical Incident programs or teams. As someone who is on final approach in my career, it gives me great pleasure in supporting our Ministry’s Critical Incident Stress Management Program in doing what is necessary to promote CISM and mold or mentor new individuals into effective peers that can carry on the torch for this volunteer program, that has provided so much to me as well as countless individuals in need within the organization since our teams inception 30+ years ago. Often, I get asked or queried what being on the CISM Team is like and what effect it has on me or my life. My answer is always relatively the same. I first try to be honest in saying that at times it is difficult volunteering to be put into heartbreaking, tragic, and overall uncomfortable situations with sometime severely impacted people looking at you for the answers. It’s not for everybody, but if you are a person that genuinely cares for those in your workplace, organization, or communities and want to help, then this is a place where you can build skills that can truly make an impact in people’s lives.  I always express the importance of building those connections within your CISM team as it is such a vital part of an effective team to know and trust that you have each other’s backs. As there will undoubtably be times when you don’t know how to say the right thing to ease the pain of others but that’s why it is called a TEAM. Not only are we there for the good of others we are there to support each other in delivering these processes and sharing information that is proven to help assist in healing. Lastly, I always relay that my involvement with the Critical Incident Stress Management Program has not only helped others recover after the incidents they have experienced, but it has also profoundly benefitted me by improving my social connections and building relationships I will cherish for life. It has enhanced my emotional and mental capacity and built resilience in handling different situations that often happen in many of our lives. It has most likely improved my overall sense of well-being, increased my self-worth, and inherently contributed to my overall physical health in a positive way, but one thing is for certain.  It has made me a better friend, father, husband, coworker, and human being. 

In closing, I will say that 2023 will go down in the books as the worst fire season in our Provinces history to date. Not only for the hectares of forests burned, the homes lost, the increased amount of CISM responses required, or the vast amount of fire on the landscape for months with little reprieve, but more importantly, for the six courageous individuals who lost their lives selflessly protecting communities within our Province. Their deaths not only remind us of the dangers our people face every single day on the fireline and in the performance of their duties, but also the importance of having the correct resources in place to ensure the rest of our people, who are greatly impacted by these tragic events, are getting the support and the direction they need to recover and effectively deal with this trauma to  minimize the negative effects it can have on them and their loved ones.  CISM teams around the globe are commonly the first step in this process.  The individuals on these Critical Incident Stress Management teams also exhibit exemplary courage, selflessness, and bravery in their commitment to this work, and provide an invaluable service to their organizations, workplaces, and communities. 

 

July 12, 2024

Connection and Community: Strengthening Wellness for Public Safety

By: Ret Sgt. Rich Creamer, MA CSAC-S

Introduction

Public Safety—firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), paramedics and tele-communicators are the backbone of emergency response. They are often the first on the scene, providing critical care, making swift decisions, and ensuring public safety. While their roles are indispensable, the unique demands and intense stressors associated with their jobs can take a significant toll on their mental and emotional well-being.

They regularly witness traumatic events, face physical danger, and endure high levels of occupational stress. These experiences can lead to mental health challenges such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and burnout. Additionally, the culture within many public safety organizations often emphasizes stoicism and self-reliance, which can deter individuals from seeking help or expressing vulnerability. This culture, combined with irregular work hours and the high stakes of their job, can lead to social isolation and a sense of disconnection from their peers and even from their own families.

This makes the concepts of connection and community crucial for strengthening their wellness. Building a supportive network not only aids in stress management but also enhances overall job performance and personal satisfaction.

 

The Importance of Connection

Enhancing Mental Health and Well-being

A strong sense of personal connection can significantly enhance the mental health and well-being of first responders. Social support serves as a buffer against the negative effects of stress. Having a network of peers who understand the unique challenges of the job provides an outlet for sharing experiences, venting frustrations, and receiving empathetic support. This can reduce feelings of isolation and help in processing traumatic events, mitigating the risk of developing severe mental health issues.

Improving Job Performance and Satisfaction

Connection and community are also linked to improved job performance and satisfaction. When first responders feel supported and valued by their peers, administration and the community, they are more likely to experience greater job satisfaction and commitment. A positive workplace environment fosters collaboration, trust, and teamwork, all of which are crucial for an effective response within the communities they serve.  Additionally, employees who feel connected and valued by their workplace and community are generally more motivated and engaged, leading to higher job performance and stronger community relationships.

Strengthening Family Relationships

The demanding nature of public safety can strain family relationships. Family support groups, counseling services, and community activities that involve families can help first responders and their loved ones understand and cope with the challenges of the job. Strengthening family ties provides a stable home environment, which is essential for the overall well-being of first responders.

Peer Support Programs

Peer support programs are one of the most effective and utilized strategies for enhancing social wellness among first responders. These programs involve training first responders to provide emotional and practical support to their peers. Peers are often deemed as more approachable than mental health professionals because they share similar experiences and understand the specific challenges of the job. These programs can offer a confidential space for individuals to discuss their experiences and seek referrals without fear of judgment.

Mental Health Training and Resources

Providing mental health training and resources is essential for fostering a supportive environment. Training in managing stress, building resilience, and recognizing the signs of mental health issues should be prioritized. Organizations should also ensure that first responders have access to counseling services, whether through trusted employee assistance programs or partnerships with mental health professionals. Encouraging the use of these resources helps normalize mental health care and reduces the stigma associated with seeking help.

Building a Supportive Organizational Culture

Creating a supportive organizational culture is fundamental to strengthening wellness. Leadership should prioritize mental health and well-being, demonstrating this commitment through policies and practices that support work-life balance, provide mental health resources, and encourage open communication. They should not only enact policy, but also abide by and display their buy in. Recognizing and rewarding the contributions of first responders can also foster a sense of belonging and appreciation, further enhancing their connection to the organization.

Community Engagement and Outreach

Engaging with the broader community is another vital aspect of building connection and community for first responders. Community outreach programs, public education initiatives, and collaborative events with local organizations can help bridge the gap between first responders and the communities they serve. This not only enhances mutual understanding and respect, but also provides first responders with a support network.

Family Support Programs

Family support programs are crucial in helping first responders maintain healthy relationships with their loved ones. These programs can include family counseling, educational workshops on the challenges of first responder work, and social events that involve families. By providing resources and support to families, organizations can help ensure that first responders have a strong home support system, which is essential for their overall well-being.

Conclusion

The demands placed on our frontline heroes are immense, and their well-being is critical not only for their own health but also for the effectiveness and reliability of emergency services. Connection and community are key components of social wellness, providing first responders with the support they need to manage stress, process traumatic experiences, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

By building a supportive organizational culture and implementing strategies such as peer support programs, mental health training, community engagement, and family support programs, we can significantly strengthen the social wellness of first responders. These efforts not only benefit the individuals involved, but also contribute to a more resilient and effective response system, ultimately enhancing public safety and community well-being.

June 6, 2024

Let’s Talk About
Mental Health

By: Conrad Weaver

Starting the conversation about mental health
and PTSD among first responders is challenging
but essential in changing the culture.

Trauma-Informed Peer
Support: The Missing 
Connection 

By: Nancy Wesselink, PhD LMSW CEAP

These are just a few of the reasons why men 
and women are not asking for help. The question
is, where do we start?

“It’s up to leaders to lead the charge. The people in your care will follow.
Now, will you do that hard thing?” – Conrad Weaver

“Allowing first responders to have the space to heal and go through their emotions is a gift that any chief could give them. Helping the first responder go through the trauma and providing healthy tools is an essential part of ending the stigma” – Ciara Madrid

“Too often first responders don’t seek the help they need, So making sure they have easy access to mental health services is a priority…” – Kevin Easton

June 4, 2024

LET’S TALK ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH

By: Conrad Weaver

How do you start the conversation about mental health and posttraumatic stress (PTS), or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Up until recently, most first responders have not been keen on talking about these things. I was once told by an “old-timer” that, “In my day, we dealt with these things with, ‘Suck it up, here’s a beer.” We can clearly see where that has led us.

Does the “suck it up” culture still exist? Yes, I’ve seen it alive and well. While many of us—and I suspect many who are reading this post—are immersed in the wellness space, there are many more who’ve never even talked about this.

A few months ago, we held a film screening of PTSD911 in a southern state. After the film ended, a fire chief came up to me with his arms crossed. He said, “I didn’t think I had a problem until I saw your film.” What followed was a long conversation about his struggles and the lack of resources and conversation about these things at his agency. He acknowledged that, aside from an occasional after-action meeting, they have never talked about mental health at his firehouse.

I think this is not unique. Another battalion chief I spoke with recently said he has faced repercussions from his chief for getting involved in mental health conferences and activities. If we are going to have healthy first responders who thrive and prosper, then there needs to be a movement to get leaders talking about and doing the things necessary to create a culture that promotes health and wellness.
This stigma was evident when we attended a recent conference for firefighters. It’s a huge event with more than 30,000 firefighters attending. We had the opportunity to have a presence in their “Wellness Pavilion.” I was excited about this and thought that we would be able to connect with tens of thousands of firefighters and share what we’re doing with the film and related resources.

Unfortunately, the conference organizers placed the “Wellness Pavilion” outside the main exhibit hall and off to the side, away from most of the foot traffic. The pavilion was also cordoned off and hidden behind black curtains with one primary entry point. Attendees had to know that it was there and make an extra effort to walk to that area of the venue to visit. We had printed 1,000 info cards to hand out, and I was certain that we had brought along far too few. But I was very mistaken. I returned with more than half of the cards.

Compared to the main exhibit hall, we had very few people come to the pavilion. There were times when no one came through the pavilion at all. All of the vendors were frustrated. In my view, the organization stigmatized health and wellness by hiding it behind curtains and putting it off to the side. They perpetuated the idea that wellness is not to be talked about. “Let’s hide it behind curtains.” We have some work to do.
Talking about mental health IS hard. But so is battling PTSD. Choose your hard. Are you willing to continue burying those who end their own lives, or are you brave enough to have hard conversations that could lead to change?
So how do you start these vital conversations that lead to change? Here are some ideas that may help you and your team open up about wellness and mental health.

  1. Share Personal Stories: Begin by sharing a relatable story about your struggles. Personal anecdotes can help break the ice and make the conversation more relatable and less intimidating. This is why documentary films, like PTSD911 (shameless plug), are so powerful. There’s something about hearing someone’s story that helps you relate. I often hear this from people who attend our screenings; they see themselves in the story. Stories like these show how important it is to talk about our mental health, especially when the story comes from a leader. When the chief, captain, or sergeant shares their story, it makes it okay for others to share their own stories and acknowledge their struggles.
    People want authentic leaders. Sharing your struggles doesn’t make you seem weak; it makes you real. In the PTSD911 film, firefighter Matty talks about the time when two sheriff deputies began sharing their struggles with him and helped him realize that he’s not alone in the struggle. I love what Simon Sinek says about leadership: “It is the weak leader that compensates by acting strong. It is the strong leader that allows people to see when they are weak.” Let your people see the real you.
  2. Acknowledge the Stigma: Open the conversation by addressing the historical “suck it up” mentality. Say something like, “We all know the old mentality of ‘suck it up and have a beer.’ But we can see where that’s led us. It’s time to move past this and start talking about our mental health.” This sets the stage for a more open discussion and recognizes the existing challenges. Hiding the stigma behind curtains or ignoring that it exists exacerbates the problem. Get it out in the open and expose it.
  3. Highlight the Consequences of Silence: Emphasize the negative impacts of not talking about mental health. When we hide and pretend we don’t have a problem, the problem actually gets worse. Not talking about these issues can lead to serious consequences, both personally and professionally. We need to support each other in seeking help, not punish those who do. When we talk about it with our peers and workmates, we begin to understand and know that we are not alone.
  4. Create a Safe Space: Encourage the formation of safe, non-judgmental spaces for first responders to discuss their mental health. Encourage regular check-ins or participation in peer support groups where responders can talk openly without fear of judgment. Make these resources more visible and accessible, unlike the hidden wellness pavilion at the recent conference. The importance of feeling safe when revealing vulnerable and personal information is vital. Several years ago, I was invited to attend an AA meeting in Washington, D.C. It was a group that had been meeting for more than 30 years and included all races, genders, ages, and ethnicities. What I found there was a supportive, loving group that didn’t judge. They held each other accountable when needed, but they loved and supported each other unlike any group I’ve experienced. It was refreshing. It was a safe space for deeper conversations. This is what’s needed in our first responder agencies. We need a place where deep conversations can be discussed without fear of reprisal.
  5. Leadership Involvement: Leaders have a lot on their shoulders these days, but the health of the people they lead must be a priority. Simon Sinek says, “Leadership is not about being in charge; it’s about taking care of the people in our charge.” If there are people in your charge who are unhealthy, it’s on you as a leader to help them become healthy. What are you doing about it? Have you created an environment that supports those who are struggling? Someone once said that unhealthy first responders make unhealthy decisions. When leaders genuinely show they care, this builds trust and people feel supported. When people feel supported, they will often work longer hours for less money, and they will stay. When they feel unsupported, they will quit. When leaders are absent from these discussions, it lessens the value of the conversation. Over and over on my travels across the country, I hear that leadership is failing the first responders. Why? Maybe it’s because they are not willing to deal with or admit their struggles? John Maxwell is famous for saying, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” If you want to get your people talking and doing something about mental health, then you as a leader must lead. Set the example. First, take care of yourself, do the hard work, then and only then will you be able to start that conversation with your people that leads to a change of culture.

Starting the conversation about mental health and PTSD among first responders is challenging but essential in changing the culture. That’s what my new Fire Chief friend is doing down south! He’s reaching out to others who have been there, and he’s leading the charge at his department. I can’t wait to hear how things are going there.

We need more leaders like him. Leaders who are willing to have the hard conversations and do what’s necessary to instigate change. It’s up to leaders to lead the charge. The people in your care will follow. Now, will you do that hard thing?

Biography

Conrad Weaver is an Award-winning documentary filmmaker, podcast host, speaker producer, and director with a passion for telling stories that matter. Conrad has been telling stories through documentary films for more than ten years, and his films and work have taken him from the slums of Guatemala and orphanages in Ukraine, to the Halls of Congress on Capitol Hill, and everywhere in between. Whenever Conrad takes on a film project he dives deep into the culture to get to know the story and become an expert on the subject. His films have won many prestigious awards including a Regional EMMY Award. Whether its through his films or his podcast, Conrad’s goal is to inspire to live a life of meaning and purpose.

May 17, 2024

Self-Care is Community Care: The Vital Role of Resilience in Critical Incident Stress Management Teams

By: Nicole E. Ferry, MPA

In the world of public safety, the men and women who dedicate their lives to protect and serve our communities often face unimaginable challenges.

“It is time to become a part of the solution and work with those suffering to make mental health issues stigma free.” – Adam A. Meyers

“By encouraging others to seek or access help, or simply by being there for someone when they need us, we instill hope in ourselves and those around us.” – Anita Everett

March 8, 2024

Survivor Informed Peer Support (SIPS): Two Decades of Peers Rising as “VolunPEERS”

By: Cherie Castellano L.P.C. 

Research Fellow Duke University

Abstract: A model entitled “Survivor Informed Peer Support ” (SIPS) is introduced in this article to describe the peer support activity created for a new initiative delivered at VolunPEER, a nonprofit organization to give and grow peer support. More than 20 years of peer support experience has informed this writer in an attempt to integrate the “lessons learned” to establish the “Survivor Informed Peer Support” model as a unique and effective approach to peer support services needed in these trying times of trauma and crises. Expanded and refocused, the “Survivor Informed Peer Support” model is designed to be delivered in person in 1:1 or group settings however this model stands apart from this writers original approach in “Reciprocal Peer Support” discussed in this article [International Journal of Emergency Mental Health, 2012, 14(2)]as the focus is survivorship and is trauma informed in this new approach.

Cherie Castellano, LPC AAETS, is President & Founder of VolunPEER Inc. Cherie has developed twenty-three unique peer support programs, some recognized as national models utilizing her expertise in peer support, crisis intervention and behavioral Healthcare innovations. 

The tragic events on 9/11/2001 prompted the creation of a variety of culturally competent peer support telephonic services for rescuers and those most impacted by the disaster.as a way to address unmet behavioral healthcare challenges offered through UMDNJ- University Behavioral HealthCare.  For more than two decades peer services were offered with a structured approach created by this writer known as “Reciprocal Peer Support.”  After refining telephonic peer services for two decades, it seemed sufficient until I had a personal traumatic experience that informed my work.

My “Survivor” Story

After more than twenty years of leadership in peer support program development and service provision, my “norm” was to respond to others in need, as I would say “rescuing rescuers” using peer connections. On March 9, 2022, my family was devastated by a house fire that destroyed both our home and everything we owned; however our survival left us grateful for our lives despite the tragedy and trauma we endured. We moved into a hotel, bought clothes at a local convenience store and began our journey as a homeless family with three dogs, two young adult children and my husband and myself determined to be resilient. 

To our surprise and awe, it seemed everyone we had ever supported or “rescued” in our lives wanted to give back to us now that we were in need. Almost every hour of the days that followed we were inundated with people volunteering to help, dropping off food, clothes, literally any item from a coat to a computer, we had assistance from the kindness of our community of volunteers! A “GoFundMe” was established and along with over seven hundred people donating to the rebuild of our home and our lives they included messages of hope and thanks that were invaluable glimpses of kindness that we would read out loud to each other often with tears of gratitude. 

What became clear within that first month of our crisis was that our ability to survive was intimately connected to our faith, family, and community of volunteers who sustained our lives. The concept of volunteers and peer support seemed connected both personally and professionally as I began to consider a new application for peer support following traumatic events for my own mental health. Although I consider myself part of the law enforcement culture as my husband is a Captain in the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office, and as a mother of a child who had early childhood challenges, I am connected to special Moms, but this fire and traumatic event seemed to define my need for connection more than any other cultural consideration. 

My survival seemed contingent on my connection to my peers, volunteers, and those who had a shared lived traumatic experience related to our fire. “Survivor Informed Peer Support” (SIPS) was conceptualized by my trauma but the launched for of a community driven peer support program offered through “VolunPEER Inc” a nonprofit organization with a mission to allow individuals to get, give or grow peer support.

The Survivor Informed Peer Support (SIPS) model  

VolunPEER’s “Survivor Informed Peer Support/SIPS” model has four tasks; Task 1:  Reflection & Connection, Task 2:  Collect Information, Risk Assessment, & Trauma Resource mgt, Task 3:  Wellness & Resilience Building & Mind/Body connection, Task 4:  VolunPEER “Hand off”/ for sustainability w/Community support.

Task One – Reflection & Connection  

Reflection is the first step in SIPS task one as an essential component for peer support success. Experiencing traumatic events and how we survive and thrive in the aftermath requires storytelling that is thoughtful with insight as peer support begins with a reflection based on a shared lived traumatic experience. “Survivor Informed Peer Support ” requires a pure presence at the heart of the reflection and is necessary for successful peer support engagement. In SIPS, the peer supporter is trained and prepared to write their story of trauma and survival to determine the key points to share lived experience without triggering experiences or monopolizing the initial engagement. Reflection allows for a prepared approach to embrace one’s own survival story as a shared experience to connect to the client without judgment, avoiding preaching or directing, to cope with the moments of shared suffering and pain with a strength based approach. 

Connection can be enhanced when reflection is the first strategy for SIPS task one. Connection is guided by feeling with the survivor being supported with SIPS and through implementing active listening and Theresa Wisemans techniques in empathic listening. “Matching” traumatic experiences for survivors to connect may often not be exact but will be guided by the SIPS categories of survivors in the SIPS model. 

When an initial contact is of a crisis nature, soon after the event occurred, the intimacy created by the sense of vulnerability of all involved expedites the connection of both the peer in need and peer supporter and also increases the risk for triggers and challenges. Survivors of traumatic events who reach out for help if handled poorly may refuse the connection, perhaps forever.  

SIPS peer supporters will be trained to recognize a resistant peer at the initial contact, as well as to recognize their own frustrations and need to help in the peer relationship. Strength based approaches that maintain a focus on serving others needs is a primary tool to connection. If a peer supporter fails to establish reflection and connection of a pure presence with the peer in need the outcome will often result in premature termination of the contact and in turn the helping relationship. In supervision, peer supporters are challenged to explore why the connection was not made and how their reflection may have been experienced. Part of the need for ongoing reflection and self-assessment is to ensure that the peer is aware of his or her vulnerabilities and strengths in the beginning of the connection process. 

The SIPS model will match peers most effectively based upon shared traumatic experiences related to their survivorship category. Shared experiences related to trauma is the primary matching criteria with the cultural considerations being a secondary component as needed. It is essential, however, that the peer supporter’s experience is in the past, ideally survived, treated and resolved in terms of capacity to share without being triggered. If he or she struggles in relapse or life changes it is an important component of self-awareness to ensure reflection and connection are beneficial to both the peers and those offering support by encouraging SIPS peers to use self-care techniques.

Task Two -Collect Information, Risk Assessment and trauma resource management.

In task two the Survivor Informed Peer Support Model is guided by structure and tools. To collect certain data, one must be ready to collect information about the traumatic event as the survival theme as well as the holistic view of the person’s life before, during and after the traumatic event. SAMSHA’s model of peer support frames the exploration to collect information. SIPS peers will get basic demographic and general data by using scripts forms and in person data forms as needed. Tools offered in SIPS include but are not limited to CAGE questionnaires, crisis and suicide assessment infused into every initial session as needed. 

Listening for emotion not “the story” is essential and the basics of trauma informed care to ensure safety and basic needs met are included. To ensure a safe environment, an office space or face to face connection must be discreetly integrated into the information gathering experience. The information gathering phase, similar to the reflection and connection phase, utilizes the same guidelines for engagement, respect and confidentiality. For SIPS intervention services a model like QPR or SAFER-R models of individual crisis intervention can be an augmentation as developed by Dr George Everly at the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc (ICISF). 

A conversational collection of information is not an assessment unless a peer is reporting acute reactions which require a clinician. Reflection, connection and shared lived experiences create a significant opportunity for information sharing in a safe and supportive environment. Shared information and experience foster accurate information collection to ensure SIPS peers and those served are provided all services necessary to ensure safety. 

Task Three – Wellness & Resilience building for mind/body connection.

Task three begins the resilience process to collaboratively explore the evidence-based model of wellness (Swarbrick) and or resilience (Seligman) as a structure to create planning together in the wake of a traumatic event. Survivors use their wellness techniques and inherent resilience but in this phase the peer role aligns with those being served to confirm needs and goals to encourage wellness and build resilience. Prompts and tools offer the SIPS peer a format to engage in this phase of the peer relationship. Today’s web-based referral options and access to information are so prevalent as a primary tool for any mental health challenge a survivor can customize their plans. The collaboration between survivors fosters a partnership that encourages healing for all involved. An essential key element in this phase is to use SMART goal strategies with fluid options to adapt in the process of rising from the traumatic event and the vicissitudes in the aftermath of life forever changed.

All wellness and resilient resources and plans offered can impact the credibility of the peer supporter if plans and services offered fail. A peer in need as a survivor will rationalize that the peer supporter is genuine if services offered go well or is a phony and not truly interested in helping if the resources/referrals go badly. SIPS peers may base this task on their own accounts of their experience. SIPS allows peers to model the importance of recognizing resilience. Reinforcement of insights is found in the self-care activities offered to the SIPS peers to fuel their work with other survivors in need. SIPS peers are encouraged to work within a three-session model and handoff as needed to clinicians; however it can be an open-ended process based on the client’s needs. 

Self-Care is emphasized with opportunities for assistance encouraged within the peer support team and managed through resilience building activity and advocacy. 

Task Four is the VolunPEER “Hand off”/ for sustainability with Community support. In this phase the SIPS peer begins to consider the “handoff” to community and trauma informed resources to ensure the SIPS interactions are time limited and structured to manage expectations and foster healthy relationships. The SIPS Four survivor groups can be offered a minimum of one time per month as a psychoeducational group based on survivor experiences. Trauma and connection may create a feeling of guilt or shame for both the SIPS peer and client if the three-session goal is not clearly articulated at the start of the process. 

In addition, an ideal handoff may include the SIPS peer to a group rather than a total disconnect. SIPS strategies may include a monthly email or connection during anniversary dates of the traumatic event. In order to ensure a rewarding experience, the ability for a client to re- enter a SIPS episode of care beyond the initial three sessions. It is essential based on limited resources for the handoff that the capacity to offer additional SIPS peer services may be varied. Praise bombardment activities, social service supports and groups to create a community transition for both the SIPS peer and client is essential for both to move forward. 

Defining VolunPEER 

Why VolunPEER? The current limits of existing behavioral healthcare services require another option for peer support to fill the gaps or offer hope while waiting for professional clinicians to begin treatment. Post Covid isolation and change have left many of us disconnected with limited contact and community experiences. With resources LIMITED for mental health support, current systems and materials for collaboration are often not culturally competent and peer support is poorly defined & often not a standardized integrated service in behavioral healthcare service delivery systems.  A crisis, like our fire, may offer an opportunity which then is often lost when the smoke clears and our sustainable lives resume.

VolunPEER Inc.’s mission is to give and grow access to “Survivor Informed Peer Support” that is simple, structured, & collaborative with training to combat “peers gone wild. “The VolunPEER Mission is to GET, GIVE, & GROW peer support to those in need. “Survivor’s Shared Lived Experiences” offers connection & healing with a foundation of trauma informed training, support, & resources for VolunPEER services. VolunPEER Inc will partner with non- profit organizations to GROW their current peer support to expand and enhance peer support services. VolunPEER Survivor Informed Peer Support model (SIPS) emphasizes the survivor connections are the most profound. Surviving Traumatic events offer connection as a peer that emphasizes strengths & the need for self-care. Survivor experiences are embedded in social service crisis continuums and can ensure confidentiality to combat stigma, inform resources and mandates structured training for peer support interactions with a trauma recovery focus.

Survivor Informed Peer Support is a Trauma Informed Model

There are four Survivor Groups targeted for the SIPS Peer intervention which include;

Survivors of Disasters- Fire/Flood/Violence/Homelessness/9/11 Man made/natural disasters, Survivor First Responders- Police, Fire Ems, Military, Healthcare workers exposed to a traumatic event, Survivors of Trauma- Medical Illness, Traumatic Events- Abuse-Physical/Sexual, Traumatic Injury, Loss, Survivor Specialty groups- Parents of special needs child/adult Clergy, LGBTQ, College Students, underserved populations with traumatic events.

VolunPEER services include. 

GET VOLUNPEER SUPPORT- Access-Request to GET VolunPEER support through our automated system online via the website or call to request VolunPEER support. Offerings include 1:1 VolunPEER support in person, three session model, VolunPEER Survivor Support groups in person (open ended groups), and Virtual VolunPEER sessions/1:1 & Group when indicated.

GIVE VOLUNPEER SUPPORT- VolunPEER Training Overview Sessions will begin the process. Following the overview session an additional four skill building sessions will offer support and competency. Clinician resources and support by licensed clinicians will be accessible through a VolunPEER Resource directory.

GROW VOLUNPEER SUPPORT-Request a VolunPEER Peer support Consultation for a needs assessment and to grow your organizations peer support efforts.

Summary 

In Survivor Informed Peer Support trauma and survivorship is the focus for effective peer connection which must be reframed in a trauma informed lens. In 2014 the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) established six guiding principles for trauma informed care. 

The six guiding principles are: 

1.) Safety 

2.) Trustworthiness and transparency 

3.) Peer Support 

4.) Collaboration and mutuality 

5.) Empowerment, voice and choice 

6.) Cultural, historical and gender issues. 

The guiding principles stress the need for organizations inside and outside of mental health to ensure the safety of clients and staff, promote transparency in decision making and encourage the sharing of lived experiences between clients and staff. A call to foster collaborative relationships and validate the strength of clients aligns with peer support concepts. (Rhodes, l., Counseling today October 2023 Vol 66 No. 4, pg 25-28) In my peer support and crisis intervention work over the last twenty-five years the evolution of peer support has been impacted by the recognition and growing interest and national standardization of the field as SAMSHA defined in the National Certification standards June 2023. In addition, the varied application of peers embedded into multidisciplinary teams offering behavioral healthcare systems is an indication of the recognition and value of peer support as an effective intervention to foster healing. An enhancement to treatment when indicated rather than a replacement is the emphasis in SIPS. Traumatized people can trigger each other but they also can share the “Glimmers’ ‘ The term glimmer, however, was introduced in 2018 in the book The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy: Engaging the Rhythm of Regulation2 by licensed clinical social worker Deb Dana. Glimmers reflect times in which we reflect on the light in the darkness of surviving a traumatic event and it is an experience to cherish rather than forget. Much like the Japanese art of pottery kintsugi, the broken pottery pieces are filled with gold to fill in the cracks to be forever changed but more beautiful with the recognition of the brokenness and new gold-filled structure that is potentially offered stronger. SIPS interventions highlight that post traumatic stress is inevitable and temporary but more important is the emphasis on post traumatic growth.

A focus on Posttraumatic growth describes three categories which include Sense of Self, Relationships, Spirituality/religious beliefs. Individuals do not simply survive without negative effects; they experience themselves as better than they were before the traumatic event. (Calhoun and Terdeshi ,2000) Trauma allows an opportunity to grow as a person. If trauma may allow an opportunity to grow then Survivor informed peer support may allow an opportunity to grow together rising towards the light out of darkness.

Questions regarding this article should be directed to [email protected].

March 8, 2024

Developing Better Stronger Healthier

Beyond Just Wishful Thinking or Another New Program!

By: John R. Robertson. 

ICISF Approved Instructor and Member 

Have you ever noticed how many times, programs and training frequently end with the ‘now what?” question? Basically, we get training in this area and then are informed that there is more training we should get in that area of the 1st training. 

When it comes to Developing Better Stronger Healthier, Beyond Just Wishful Thinking or another new Program, you know that it requires leadership support and buy-in. The bottom line is there needs to be some ROI or at least a process to implement which can be seen, tracked, and measured. Obviously, lots of us love to do events, conferences, or perhaps it is being the one speaking, or training. Either way, the key question is always, “what about the change? What about the difference?

Basically, if it was selling autos, we would say it feels like we are constantly being upsold

In a tragic irony, the process is actually quite normal, in fact to use part of the expression ‘it is normal people doing normal things in an abnormal educational context

There are 3 things that I consistently notice with this programmatic approach to building peer support and wellness in the workplace. 

  • The event is never the real crisis 
  • How leadership handles the change/crisis/storm tilts the workplace and workforce towards healthy or unhealthy. It will never leave it neutral.
  • Lastly, the wrong person doing an intervention, providing support, can frequently be worse than the event? Whether he or she is an internal peer or external MH person is secondary as the ripple from this wrong person will challenge ‘getting back to a new norm’ in ways that most leadership and peers had not thought of.

Bottom line there is no psychological health and safety, peer support, resilience [never mind thriving] if there is no social safety. This can happen with the trainer doing the training as well– they get the content but do not ‘get it’! 

I was called into a situation where this very thing happened. The difference was that there were two people, one as the EAP MH and the other as the team member. It was a first responder culture, so they already had their own ethos when it came to being “FINE” or “GOOD”.

The brief overview of this tragic situation was a young emergency personnel had ended his shift and got to the parking lot and dropped. While their colleagues worked on the person, there was nothing that worked. The short version was this 30 something-year-old had an aneurysm and died. He had a two-month-old baby at home. Added to that, one of their colleagues had been killed in a home mechanics shop tragedy 2 days earlier. 

I received a phone call from the EAP to ask if I would be willing to go on site and address some of the fall-out. It was rippling into other areas, including the support staff, and things had escalated. 

I arrived on scene, was escorted into the area where the first responders work. I was greeted at the door by the most senior rank officer and greeted with the words, [corrected for G-rating] “what the heck do you think you are doing here? We do not need anyone else from the stupid EAP or internal experts.”

I call it the hot water-tea bag principle as values always leak out in hot water [like a tea bag]. Tragically leadership and organizations spend thousands on training, courses, and other great things however what will leak out in hot water is not getting resolved. If there is a desire to grow a workplace where people want to work, and the kind peer support leadership people trust and respect then it is an inside out approach to allow it to thrive.

To be better, stronger, healthier!

4 assets must be in play, with their respective facets requires a rethink of the traditional reactive, whack-a-mole approach of supporting persons into a developmental, or intentional, approach.

  1. First Asset is a strong core. This asset has five facets. First, leadership must have the physical health to be able to follow it through. Leadership must have the emotional well being to be able to address these concerns. The third facet is trust, trust for one another, trust for the leadership, trust for the organization, trust for the plan. Another facet is ensuring that the right people are in the right places and for the right reasons. And the final facet is a true ownership and buy-in to the values
  2. Second Asset is aligned motivation. This is the foundation to ensure that the plan works, not a series of checklists of to-dos, it has four facets. The first facet is the motivation – it must be pure, not about compliance, but about health, and well-being. It must be values-anchored, so it is about alignment, engagement, and respect. The next facet is the leadership must have a trust building communication style. The style that allows leaders to deal with difficult people to deal with conflict to invite, engage, and ensure compliance when it is needed. Another facet is collective accountability. This means expressions like not my job, I’m too busy, are not heard
  3. Third Asset is a targeted strategy. This is the fertile soil where growth happens. If this targeted strategy is not established, the new norm seldom results in being positive or healthy. The facets include a leadership who understands that normal people have normal reactions to abnormal situations. Leadership must understand that this is a reaction to a crisis or change and not a performance issue. Second facet is that leadership must provide tactical support. Another facet is leadership must work with other leadership and the team afterwards to address, heal, or follow through on some of the gaps that happened. And the final facet is leadership must model well-being. They must be willing to normalize their reactions to abnormal events. If these facets are not in place the 4th Asset will not happen
  4. The final Asset is defining a refinable new norm. One of the realities is beliefs, values, and a variety of other elements have been impacted through crisis/change. People may question their roles, people may be questioning the leadership, or what the real values are of the organization. People may be looking at leaving, new personnel required, or maybe some of the roles need to change for the organization to grow forward. The four facets involved in DRNN is first the new norm needs to be defined. This means leadership needs to meet to define and clarify what the new norm looks like; meet with others to clarify some of the things that have changed, what needs to be clarified to move forward in health. The second facet is there needs to be a launch plan. People need to be reminded that this plan is refinable but there has to be a sense of a plan. The third facet is the new plan must be faith focused, not fear focused. It has to have a positive orientation in its ethos around what leadership and the organization stands for. The final facet is leadership needs to be able to rally buy-in

Transforming the traditional crisis response, beyond just a CISM intervention, an EAP call, with   some organizational personnel, so your organization, leadership and personnel thrive afterwards.

However, let me be crystal clear – this is not another layer of responsibilities, or even more “to do’s” on a leader’s already overcrowded plate. 

I know that leadership holds the reins for many things, in fact they can result in steering a workplace completely off the trail and into a ditch. I am not pretending that this does not happen. However, look at the ever-increasing demands that are being added to leaders’ plates when it comes to the wellbeing of people. 

Ask almost any leader ‘did you get into leadership to focus on these concerns for the wellbeing and workforce wellness, pressures for culture, recruitment/retention, and the obvious productivity?”

Workplace wellness is not a 1 size fits all, but it requires these 4 assets [and their facets] to come though crisis/change and thrive. it can never be a program, or training, that one does and it all works.

It requires a consistent effort in a steady direction to be 

Better Stronger Healthier – Beyond Just Wishful Thinking or another new Program! 

It requires the willingness to Run Toward the Roar to thrive!

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