Care for the Caregivers

A special contribution from our team member, Kristen J. Schmidt, MSW, Ph.D.

I began my clinical professional career over 30 years ago. As I reflect back, I am struck by the growth within the mental health profession. I have witnessed the development of evidence- based practices, trauma informed practices and a growth of knowledge about the issues practitioners can face when caring for individuals who experienced trauma. It now has a name: compassion fatigue.

Compassion Fatigue

Early in my career, I knew many therapists who quit. Some moved to other clinical environments, but many of them went into other professions altogether. We used the term “burnt out” but lacked a full understanding of why, how and what the best way is to respond. We supported mental health professionals with supervision, time off and the promotion of self-care.

Today we know so much more and can offer a comprehensive approach to address the two main components of compassion fatigue: burnout and vicarious trauma. Burnout can manifest itself with feelings of exhaustion, frustration and even depression. Symptoms of distress from vicarious trauma can include fear, anxiety, sleep disturbances and intrusive traumatic thoughts.

Many of us entered the profession because we wanted to help others. We tend to be compassionate, empathetic people. Combine this with the level of client/consumer severity, the workload, our own vulnerabilities and sometimes the extreme situations in which we work, it is easy to see how professionals can be at risk for compassion fatigue.

Prevention and Recovery

We know that prevention and/or recovery from compassion fatigue can be facilitated by awareness and anticipation of risk factors. The earlier we become aware of this issue ,the more likely practitioners can address those factors and even become resilient. Self-assessment tools are available to help identify our own personal factors.

When working in the field of trauma, it is imperative that we stay current in our professional knowledge and skill set. This includes utilizing supervision to address theory and practice, relationships, safety and vicarious trauma. Creating a peer support network, developing self-care measures and seeking personal clinical and medical therapy, when indicated, are also critical.

Importance of a Healthy Life Balance

I have personally tried to achieve a healthy balance in my life and realize that I came upon some helpful lifestyle activities quite by accident. Leaving work at work is easier said then done. Being a working mother, it didn’t seem possible to go for a walk, or engage in an activity like reading or gardening when I got home.

Yet, I somehow knew that a transition from work to home was indicated. For me it became cooking. And I found a way to engage my family in the process. I also changed my clothes as soon as I got home signaling to me and to others that my workday ended, and the family became my main focus. Later I found yoga, meditation and mindfulness to aid in creating a healthy work-life balance. Building in recreational activities, attending to hobbies and maintaining positive support systems also helped.

Trauma professionals often have a difficult time making their own needs a priority. What we have come to realize that by not doing so we are creating a liability for ourselves, the agencies we work for and those we are committed to serve.

Kristen J. Schmidt, MSW, Ph.D.

Accreditation Consultant for Accreditation Guru, Inc.

Hiring IDD Individuals is Both the Right Thing to Do and Good for Business

Even though Congress passed the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990, many employers continue to discriminate against people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

Although IDD people are more likely to be unemployed and underemployed, many businesses find that this population is reliable and efficient. In a tight job market, moreover, people with IDD are ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), almost 6 million people with IDD age 16 years or older are employed in the civilian labor force, about four percent of the total number of workers in the United States.

Yet many of these employees are subject to bias: unemployment for people with disabilities stands at 7.7 percent, as opposed to 3.3 percent for the general population, according to BLS. And, in 2017, almost a third of all discrimination cases filed with the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concerned people with disabilities. That number has jumped from around 22 percent in 1997.

For many reasons, small business owners and larger companies have never considered hiring someone with IDD and remain unaware of this population’s capabilities – beyond bagging groceries or tearing tickets at a movie theater.

For example, Levy Restaurant Group placed more than 100 IDD individuals in jobs at the Barclay Center, a large sports and concert venue in Brooklyn, and plans to expand the program to other locations.

In addition, the play Amy and the Orphans, which debuted in 2018, became the only Broadway or Off-Broadway production to feature actors with IDD in leading roles.

And, HeartShare Human Services of New York, founded in 1914, helped place avid basketball fan, Donald, in his dream job at a Modell’s sporting goods store in New York City.

“Everybody is capable of playing a role in your company,” said Donald’s colleague, Luis Rodriguez. “Businesses should take the time to see what these unique, motivated and skilled people can do. Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

The New Year is a great time to seek out agencies that provide services to people with IDD. The Arc, the largest national organization that helps people with IDD find employment, has more than 700 chapters across the United States.

The organization, started in living rooms and church basements by parents who rejected the advice of pediatricians that they institutionalize their IDD children and “create a better life for [their] sons and daughters,” said CEO Peter Berns, is the eighth largest charity federation in the United States.

There are many other organizations where one may find information on hiring IDD individuals. For example, through its Job Bank and other services, Providers Alliance for Community Services in Texas helps deliver long-term support for people with IDD in the Lone Star State.

Giving people with IDD a sense of purpose and self-worth through employment presents a win-win proposition and brings a deep sense of satisfaction that exceeds the cost of actually hiring these competent and motivated employees. It also supports the mission of diversity and inclusion as a driver of organizational strategy, which has been linked to increased employee engagement and customer loyalty.

Hiring IDD individuals makes good business sense while also doing good.