Stress and non-clinical staff: SPIRASI director reflects on lessons learned in care for caregivers

Editor’s Note: This is the final blog in a regular series from centres involved in the Peer Support project (more fully described in our introduction blog here). See other previous posts in this series here.

Peer support tag

I was discussing our work recently with the CEO of a company who are redesigning our website, and he exclaimed: “I don’t know how you deal with all of that on daily basis. I just don’t know”.

As of this month I have been working with SPIRASI for ten years, and I can’t count how many times I have been asked this question, both professionally and personally. It’s a question that I know others who work with asylum seekers grapple with; but it’s also something that over my ten years of being at SPIRASI we have tried, sometimes with limited success, to deal with.

It’s an important distinction, in this work with victims of torture, for me to state that I’m not a clinician. I’m neither a psychologist nor doctor, although I have been asked a good few times if I’m a priest given that we’ve been founded by a religious order called the Spiritans (I’m not).   Being a non-clinician does mean that I don’t meet with clients to conduct assessments or therapy sessions. Although I do interact with some of the clients of our centre, it’s often unscheduled and normally from a distance. This distinction in our work is important because it can determine not only the impact of the work, but how the response to that impact is often formulated and how readily you can identify the impact.

I think it’s only natural that on the scale of need in the centre for support that I and other administrative staff are often the lowest on that scale – especially when you are aware of the depth of suffering and despair of our clients and what confronts our clinical team. Before the Peer Support Project, we only really thought of the need to support staff in terms of that front line clinical team and along traditional lines, such as individual supervision for therapists. There is an undeniable and demonstrable need to ensure that therapists, social workers and physicians receive regular supervision and support, but the Peer Support Project has shifted this assumption in our organisation. We now accept the need to provide support to those on that lower and less visible end of the spectrum.

Non-clinical team members are impacted by the work. This impact is often through high levels of stress and some vicarious traumatisation and these needs cannot be ignored by rehabilitation centres. Through the use of the Stress Management Cycle (SMC) that was shared by the Antares Foundation, we now have the ability to approach the stress related to the work in a much more systematic and considered way.

As a result of working daily with victims of torture, it becomes a challenge to see beyond the individual needs of victims and focus on self, team and organisation.  The SMC gives us the tools to look at what needs to be in place on a policy level and to ensure that through the time of an employee/intern/volunteer within our organisation, from selection and induction through to post employment support, that we have appropriate mechanisms to support staff, both clinical and non-clinical.

The work is stressful and difficult, and I now readily admit to people like the CEO of our web-design company that it is. But I also make the point to him that it is one of the most rewarding and inspiring jobs that I could have ever wished for and that it’s an honour to work for victims of torture.

By Greg Straton, Director of SPIRASI, Ireland

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