The Role of Debriefing in Ensuring Effective and Ethical Counseling

Often professional helpers, are exposed to trauma, crisis, and tragedies in their line of work.  Through these experiences, it is possible for the impact to create negative emotions and burnout. Debriefing is a necessary procedure for helpers: to prevent burnout, Self-care and to remain competent.

Types of burnout

Burnout can be defined as the generalized state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion counselors experience by long term involvement in emotionally demanding situations. various types of burnout are explored below:

  1. Compassion fatigue/secondary trauma-experience of diminished or exhausted compassion-normative response that helpers have in helping. The exhausted compassion can be a reaction to social problems, hunger, and famine that are devastating. The experiences can equally lead to susceptibility to illness, intrusive images, nightmares, numbing or distancing from clients, psychological depression, grief, sadness, anxiety, rage, dread, and horror). Vs appreciation, joy, professional satisfaction.
  • Vicarious traumatization-Trauma experienced as a result of emphatic engagement with clients’ as they expose themselves to listening to clients problems. (Also called secondary trauma, contagious trauma). The main symptoms include re-experiencing traumatic feelings and actions, increased arousal, intrusion, impairment, and persistent avoidance. 
  • Traumatic countertransference– includes the total emotional reactions of the therapist to the client. Such emotional reactions relate to a variety of factors, such as the therapist’s life experiences, inherited internal unknown objects personal psychoanalysis experiences, and theoretical affiliations in interaction with the patient’s transference.
  • Burnout –consists of a gradual onset of signs and symptoms linked to the work experience (negative attitude towards the counseling, frustrations, changes in emotions, emotional exhaustion, physical symptoms; headaches, gastrointestinal, disturbances, energy levels.

Some factors that can contribute to burnout

  • Poor Management Practices i.e.  lack of supervision,
  • unclear or no guidance on job performance
  • Lack of established processes or procedures, and favoritism.
  • Coworkers in dealing with multiple personalities types in a workplace
  • Bureaucracy/autocratic procedures and processes
  • Lack of counselors’ input at the current workplace.

Some suggested ways for Counselor self-care

  • Self-assessment-use of standardized tests and scales to assess the effects of counseling on the counselors
  • Self-awareness-the capacity to monitor reactions and responses of clients, environment, personal reactions, and  feelings while maintaining a degree of objectivity
  • Self-care actions -( assumptions for self-care-ethics, type of activities- physical self-care,(exercise, nutrition, sleep plan, relaxation) recreational self-care-(vacation, relaxation, entertainment, time off), social support self-care (interaction with friends, family, social gatherings, outreach for family and friends) spiritual and religious self-care(prayer, going to church, guidance)
  • Supervision and consultation-consultation for challenging treatments should be done with other professional and supervisors
  • Sense of humor-use of humor to alleviate stressors and distance from professional can lead to healthy outcomes. 
  • Programmatic and Organizational support –professional bodies and boards pieces of training, supervision, therapy, andworkshops.
  • Education and training-knowledge on burnout, specialized training on loss and training and  risks increases knowledge in dealing with grief and loss
  • Proactive and reactive interventions-reduces a negative impact on therapy with clients (manage stress, negative emotions, and coping) 

Ways of debriefing

As a pair: Ask someone at work to be your “debrief buddy.” This might be your supervisor, a supportive work friend, or if you do shift work, the person who is clocking in, as you clock out at the end of your shift. 

On your own: If you don’t have anyone to talk to about your workday, use a journal to process the events and feelings of the day. Record your feelings related to the workday before you punch out (literally or figuratively, if you work at a home-based rescue) or as soon as you get home

As a group: Once a week staff should be allowed to get together for a group debrief with a skilled facilitator. This allows staff to reflect on what they’ve experienced in the course of caring for animals and clients.

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