Treating Healthcare Professionals
in Time of COVID-19

Treating Healthcare Professionals in Time of COVID-19

Mon, Sep 7, 2020 | HLCTN Editorial Team

Treating Healthcare Professionals in Time of COVID-19

There may be unique needs of healthcare providers
these days, and the basics of treatment still apply

There may be unique needs of healthcare providers these days, and the basics of treatment still apply

Working in a busy hospital or agency setting can be stressful during any circumstances.

The increased stress due to COVID-19 makes things much more complicated.

Health professionals may be dealing with issues they’ve rarely considered before, or may be working directly on the frontlines of the pandemic.

Therapists may not quite know where to begin in supporting this population. Here are some things to consider if you’re in that boat.

You Don’t Have to
Have all the Answers

You Don’t Have to Have all the Answers

It’s true that many people come to therapists wanting advice, recommendations and solutions to problems.

And many counselors, due to years of experience and training, can meet that need.

However, in the bigger picture, therapy isn’t about providing answers, but about helping clients find their own.

In the age of COVID-19, no one is an expert. Just as health professionals are navigating new times, so are therapists.

There’s nothing wrong with saying that.

In fact, for health professionals, it can be refreshing, validating and honest to hear that counselors don’t have it all figured out either.

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Validate, Validate, Validate

There’s a reason that validation is one of the core concepts taught in likely every counseling program.

Accepting one’s own emotions and reality is key to avoiding depression, anxiety issues and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Validate whatever your clients are feeling, and coach them in validating themselves.

Support that any decisions made were based on the best information and capabilities they had at the time.

If clients have trouble knowing how and when to validate themselves, use the “best friend” technique. Ask what they would say to a colleague in the same position. In most cases, they would probably be supportive and non-judgmental.

Help your client work through how to talk to themselves in the same compassionate way.

Going Back to the
Basics is Okay

Going Back to the Basics is Okay

Treating Healthcare Professionals in Time of COVID-19

What counselors do know are the basics of healthy self-care, productive thinking, and validating emotions.

These are all helpful right now.

Supporting healthcare professionals in determining what they need.

Particularly in the early days of dealing with these stressors, helping clients remember what coping skills they’ve used before is recommended.

Here are some questions you might ask:

  • What’s helped you in past times of stress?
  • Are there basic self-care things you know would help you?
  • If one thing could get better right now and make a big difference, what would it be?
  • What do you feel you need to talk about at this point?
  • What advice would you give someone else in your shoes? What can help you follow that for yourself?

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Help Clients Return
to Self-Care

Help Clients Return to Self-Care

Several of the therapists within the Honey Lake Clinic Therapist Network seem to agree that healthcare and mental health professionals right now to feel like they should be working nearly nonstop. While that may be possible, it’s very likely to lead to burnout, which will result in them not being able to help people more.

Discuss the pros and cons of setting boundaries, and discuss how that might work.

Incorporating basics of exercise, mindfulness and limiting exposure to news can also be helpful.

Neglecting these areas may be contributing to and complicating stress that’s already there.

Dropping self care is also likely to have the opposite of the intended effect — it’s likely to decrease productivity, focus, and interfere with decision making.

Build Back Confidence

Treating Healthcare Professionals in Time of COVID-19

Often in times of stress and uncertainty, we lose our confidence and second guess decisions.

This can be particularly common for healthcare workers who make such serious decisions.

However, it’s most likely that your clients are making the best decisions with the best information available.

Why would they do otherwise?

Point this out, and help clients to notice areas where they’ve made good decisions that led to a positive difference, even if it seems like a small one.

Review Basics of
Trauma Treatment

Review Basics of Trauma Treatment

Many people who don’t treat trauma and PTSD exclusively may jump to the conclusion that everyone will have long term emotional complications from these events. Research shows that’s not the case. While healthcare professionals may be more vulnerable to PTSD, it is not inevitable.

Reviewing the basics of trauma response and taking an online CEU course may be helpful. Here are some essential things to remember:

  • Acute stress disorder is often considered normal immediately after a trauma. It looks like PTSD, but isn’t.
  • Acute stress most often gets better on its own, roughly within a month after the initial trauma. This often occurs even with no treatment.
  • Debriefing after a trauma is not necessarily the best option. In the past it was assumed that encouraging people to talk about details right after a trauma was essential. Research shows the opposite. Some people do need to talk about recent trauma, and may initiate this on their own, but for others it is too soon. They may need space to think or process in other ways that are naturally healing for them.
  • Educate about avoidance. While it’s not necessary to debrief immediately after a trauma, allowing oneself to process and work through what happened is important at some point. Remind clients that long term avoidance contributes to PTSD. As things settle down, they should make time to heal.
  • PTSD is a specific set of symptoms that develop at a later point after the trauma. This may present in a month or two, or several months later. Review the signs to watch out for, after the acute stress phase. Educate clients on this so they can seek help if needed.
  • Trauma-focused treatments are recommended and key for treating PTSD, if it does develop. The most commonly used, and typically most effective, include EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), CPT (cognitive processing therapy), and PE (prolonged exposure therapy). Consider training in one of these therapies or referring to a colleague who already has if needed.

It can be overwhelming on the therapist’s side to treat healthcare professionals dealing with effects of COVID-19.

It’s important to practice all of these steps for yourself as well, and reach out for your own support if needed.

Remember, though, that you may already have many of the skills in place to support health professionals during this time.

Don’t underestimate your own experience and value in helping.

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