Your team’s relationships can be improved by working together to improve the treatment that you provide. Making It Real! Implementing Trauma-Informed Care in Child Serving Settings is a tool to do so. Together your team watches the videos, uses the resources, completes the worksheets and creates a plan to improve the every day world of your program. Check it out here.

Our workplace relationships of course contain all the difficulties of any kind of relationships: personalities, histories, skill levels, agendas, communication styles.

Yet our mental health workplace relationships have an additional stressor: the work is so hard. And the main tool that we use to do our work is our selves. Our own skills. Our own hearts. So when things start to go wrong, we blame ourselves, and our hearts hurt.

When a client does not change, when we have a negative discharge, when we are injured in an incident of dyscontrol, when we can’t get a client what she needs, when a client attacks us verbally or physically, these things hurt. We start to doubt ourselves and wonder whether we really know what we are doing or whether we actually have anything to offer. We begin to think: do people ever really change? Is there any hope?

These are painful feelings. And they become especially intense if we are working in a setting that does not provide any way to talk about them with each other. If we are too busy or too crisis-driven to stop and reflect on what has happened and our reactions to it, these reactions go underground and intensify. They become intolerable.

But there is an easy out that makes us feel much better. Blame someone else!

It wasn’t my fault that the client didn’t get better. It was the therapist. If she was only realistic about these kids, everything would be much smoother.

It’s second shift. If they didn’t let these clients get away with so much they wouldn’t get so out of control.

It’s administration’s fault! If they understood our job they would give us more people and then we would be able to help these clients.

What we need around here is more rules. For example, the therapist should only schedule family meetings between four and five to avoid disrupting our program. And the supervisor should not talk to the clients directly without asking the staff first.

When you start to hear these kind of statements, look for vicarious traumatization. What painful experiences has the team experienced recently? Have we talked about their impact? When a team starts to split into cliques, there are usually two possible causes:
1. An extremely negative person who is poisoning the atmosphere
2. More commonly- un-expressed and un-processed pain.

What do we do to restore good relationships in our team? Most importantly- talk about it. Talk about any difficult events that have happened recently. These could include: staff getting hurt, negative discharges, a new more difficult client, a disappointing event that happened to a client, a readmission of a client we hoped would be more successful, a client sharing a terrible trauma, a sense of chaos in the program, new demands from regulatory agencies, the death of a client or a staff, a loss of a key staff… and the list could go on. Take time to discuss these things and acknowledge how difficult they are. Also discuss any successes the team has recently experienced- what are they proud of?

And gently also bring in the mission, the tremendously important work the team is doing, as well as any good memories and jokes that reinforces the team members connections with each other. Schedule a retreat or a pot luck lunch.

You may not think you have the time to do this. But if you don’t, you will spend the time anyway, negotiating staff splits and dealing with less-than-optimum work. When we can acknowledge and share the pain of our work, we are less likely to take it out on each other. When we can talk about our doubts and fears we have less need to blame each other.

Next week we will discuss the various types of workplaces stressors and how to decrease them.

Click here to get a description of a team vicarious traumatization activity which can help in tough times.

Get the Team VT exercise

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