Please join me at the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation’s 14th World Congress on Stress, Trauma, and Coping, May 5-6, in Baltimore, MD. The Congress runs May 1-6, see http://icisfworldcongress.org/ for details. My presentation information follows:
Hoping for good community relations without effort is akin to burying ones’ head in the sand. Relationships between responders and civilians is a fragile dance between image, expectation, and reality. This workshop explores building an affiliation of trust and mutual benefit, bridges instead of walls, through community alliance initiatives.
The Ostrich Conundrum: Building Community Relationships While Retaining Super- Powers
Anyone in public service who wears a uniform has a relationship with the public. Traditionally, responders, especially police, kept an arm’s length distance, standing tall, tough, and maintaining an impenetrable image from civilians. Public opinions and expectations are woven into the uniform of the responder whether police, firefighters, EMS or paramilitary, which sometimes separates responders from their communities until emergency incidents bring them together.
We have learned that preparation, education, and training positively affect resilience and coping. Similarly, identifying strategies to partner with the community in advance of need, instead of limiting activities to post-incident responses, can enhance professional/community relations. Gaining community support often depends on portraying competency and caring.
On the road as a paramedic, in the trauma room as an RN, I became my uniform. To let go of that armor, to tuck in the superhero cape for even a moment, takes conscious intention. Old-school street folks will talk about us vs. them. Letting go of outdated perspectives to establish a relationship with the community does not mean losing the strength within the responder image. One simply determines parameters and boundaries instead of barriers.
The wall-bridge theory of human encounters provides concepts demonstrating an empowering bridge connecting people in a healthy way, or a disempowering wall of perceived disconnect, and decreased health and well-being. The bridge leads to open communications, connectedness, strength, and empowerment. The wall may encourage perceptions of incompetence and uncaring. Tenets of the wall-bridge theory include phases of reaching out, removing the masks of anonymity, acknowledging a connection, truthfulness, and solidarity. These same tenets exist within established community alliance partnering programs between agencies and the communities they serve.
The advantages of the wall-bridge theory apply to relationships outside of medicine and nursing. Participants will benefit from the workshop by learning benefits of establishing relationships and communications for themselves, with their agencies, and with their communities. In addition to improved public and media relations, open and regular communications serve to make the community part of an ongoing mutually approachable partnership.
Friday, May 5 – 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM
The Cloak of Invincibility for responders can surface through the visual representation of uniforms. Separating the person from the uniform presents a challenging blurring of lines between public and private images. Awareness of public expectations and social media scrutiny permits knowing when to act professionally and when to let it all hang out.
Myth Busted: We Are Not Our Uniforms
Emergency responders have decades of reputation declaring that it takes a unique type of person to do their jobs. Some were labeled trauma junkies, others heroes. Researchers support professional identity as including not only a duty to respond but also the unique capacity to perform those duties. Because of increasing social media scrutiny, rescuers could benefit by separating themselves from their uniforms, reducing job stressors and responsibilities when the uniform is removed.
Making the distinction between uniformed and civilian self is not always easy. Individual subjective interpretations and conscious processing mix with preconceptions about what it means to serve communities in varying uniforms. For some, the uniform is a second skin.
Social media confers additional burdens and expectations as the public scrutinizes each responder’s photos and comments on public websites. Workplaces take an interest in photo displays from social gatherings and comments about clients and patients. Agencies might benefit from education regarding the needs of responders, how responders are affected by trauma exposures and the blurring of lines between the profession and the person who wears the uniform.
Uniformed employees need to learn and practice intentional acts to set the job aside during off-hours. Mindfulness helps, yet personality traits, occupational identity, social learning, work experiences, and connectedness of responders continue over social gatherings. Storytelling is a powerful component of peer support, but reliving incidents can unintentionally burden other workers and cause distress, disrupting the out of uniform safe place. Separating self from the uniform complicates the ability to consider self-care.
My dissertation research for Nurses’ Occupational Trauma Exposure, Resilience, and Coping Education revealed that most of the ER RN study participants were either past or current paramedics. The medic/RNs in the study had ICISF CISM training, were well-informed about how to take care of others, yet expressed that they had no concept of how to care for themselves. A common saying among responders is that if one cannot take care of self, one cannot take care of others. This workshop will provide information and encourage discussion about off-duty separation of self and uniform, public image, and transitioning between the uniformed and civilian self.