Exploration of mental health workers' coping strategies in dealing with children's trauma
Keyter, Anna Elizabeth
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Studies of MHWs, (social workers, social auxiliary workers, trauma counsellors, and telephone counsellors), who work with trauma and stress, often focus on pathological symptoms and on the need to develop psycho-education programmes (Figley, 2002; Johnson & Hunter, 1997; Mac Ritchie & Leibowitz, 2010; Mikulincer, 1994; Stiles, 2002). A gap was identified how MHWs, who continuously intervene with traumatised children, cope with the stressors associated with their work. The purpose of this research was to explore the coping strategies of Mental Health Workers (MHWs) exposed to Secondary Trauma (ST)as a result of having to deal day to day with children (younger than 18) who have experienced trauma, including sexual, physical and emotional abuse, as well as the witness of violence. The MHWs’ coping responses were investigated using a qualitative case study approach. The investigation showed how MHWs constructed their realities by examining their coping strategies and the individual meanings they assigned to these. A convenience sample, based on the availability of participants, was selected. Nine women and one man, ranging in age from 26 to 57 years, employed at Childline Gauteng, participated in the research. The Mmogo-Method®, a projective visual research technique, explored the MHWs’ coping experiences through qualitative data collection methods. Visual and textual data were gathered and analysed thematically. It was found that the MHWs at Childline Gauteng displayed two main coping styles, namely intrapersonal and relational coping strategies. In the face of their daily stressors, MHWs managed to cope successfully by using strategies that are embedded in their daily activities. Their ability to find alternative ways to cope, despite continuous exposure to children’s trauma, allowed the MHWs to fulfil their work obligations. Their intrapersonal coping strategies reflected an ability to draw on their inner resources. Being aware of their environment and how it affects them, MHWs were able to regulate themselves and their environments by adopting positive attitudes. These attitudes, and the MHWs’ dispositions, positively affected their outlook on life. Moreover, MHWs maintained a healthy distance from their stressful environment by means of meaningful disengagement. Meaningful disengagement was fundamental to creating solitude as a coping strategy. Personal and professional boundaries, self-care and being able to draw on spirituality were further coping resources. MHWs’ discussions about finding meaning in their work revealed that they would not be able to do their work if they did not experience it as spiritually significant. Drawing on external resources, relational coping strategies included supportive relationships with family, friends and colleagues. Reciprocal unconditional acceptance significantly contributed to coping because it was important for MHWs to experience family and friends' attitudes as supportive and non-judgemental. MHWs encountered an organisational culture of care in the form of freedom to interact with colleagues and managers and sharing experiences. This interaction contributed to successful coping because MHWs felt comfort in the knowledge that they were not alone when dealing with children's trauma. This interaction facilitated coping because MHWs were able to interface successfully with their environment, even in difficult circumstances. In conclusion, the MHWs provided nuanced descriptions of the ways in which they experienced coping strategies. They coped with the demands of their profession by using internal and external resources, including intrapersonal and relational coping.
- Humanities