Some jobs confront you with human suffering far more often than others: rescue workers, doctors, nurses, ambulance workers, military personnel, police officers, and firefighters, for example. It is your task to support people in emergency situations, to provide security and create or increase chances of survival. If you succeed, this brings great satisfaction — but the other side of the story is that you will be frequently confronted with the grim side of life. You witness the vulnerability of life and how it may end ‘just like that’. In addition, you may have to deal with the intense emotional reactions from the people you are trying to help — pain, anger, and grief. It has been said that ‘when death is nearest, you find out what life is all about’.
Take care of yourself, then take care of others
In the military, people are taught to ‘take care of themselves, then take care of others’. You can only take care of others, if your own health has been taken care of. This goes for physical health, but it is often overlooked that it is equally important for mental health. It is precisely in a job as rescue worker that mental health is severely tested. Needless to say, getting a handle on how to maintain your mental condition is no luxury, particularly in times when you are overexposed to dramatic events.
Resilience through self-management
People have a self-management system that allows them to steer their way through life. This is a system based on ‘think — feel — act’. (see separate figure?) These form a triangle: ‘act’ forms the top, and is driven by ‘think’ and ‘feel’ — the base of the triangle. As we drive a car by using wheels, an engine and fuel, so we drive ourselves by thinking, feeling and acting.
Rescue workers are able to confront challenging situations fearlessly, energetically and courageously.
Often, these personal qualities have inspired them in their choice of profession, and because of them, they have been selected for it. In such situations it is vital to be a ‘thinking doer’. Emergency situations demand you to — temporarily — switch yourself off and do whatever the situation requires.
It is important to be able to stop this mind-set and its consequent behavior after the emergency situation has been resolved. This will allow you to recover, both physically and mentally, from your experiences. This implies paying attention to the base of the triangle of self-management — your own, personal thinking and feeling about your experiences. How do you that? That is what this training is about.
Learning to find tools to manage your resilience, and so find a way of coping with the impact of your professional life as rescue worker. Maintaining sources of energy within your professional and private life, in order to keep your mental health in good shape on a permanent basis.
Day 1 – What is my operating manual?
The first day of the course will be devoted to mapping out your personal ‘operating manual’ and how to use it. The aim is to uncover your own style of thinking, feeling, and acting. Self-knowledge is the central topic of this first day.
• What is my ‘operating manual’?
• How can I flush out my mind?
• How do I protect my self from the emotional impact of my work?
Important exercises on this day:
• self-management according to my ‘operating manual’
• red light
Day 2 — Reinforcing personal resilience
After four to six weeks the next part of the training takes place (one morning or afternoon). Previously taught skills will be refreshed and a more intensive training in self-regulation and effective functioning in life-tasks will be given.
Important exercises on this day:
• Using your sources of energy
• Resilience and growth
• Meaning and hope
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