Date: 21 July 2021

Hedwig VerhagenOn 7 July 2021 we held the first of our monthly ‘Wellbeing session for professionals’. The aim of these sessions is to provide a place for our members to reflect on their personal wellbeing. They will take place on the first Wednesday of every month, from 12 to 1pm. 

During the pandemic, the working lives of our members changed fundamentally. Many of you have been working from home, or in offices with far fewer people than before. Gone were the overheard telephone conversations that remind you that your colleagues are dealing with the same complexities as you are. No more informal peer support in the office kitchen, where you can share how your last visit, meeting or telephone call made you feel. 

For most, team meetings moved online. While this may give you opportunities to see your colleagues’ pets and home decorations, it does not give you the same chances to exchange supportive smiles with your team members across the table, or to have a quiet word by the coffee pot with a friendly colleague. People told us that online meetings tend to be more focussed (nobody wants to be on Zoom or Teams any longer than necessary) and that this has left less time for reflection and extended case discussions. Similarly, most training has been online for the past year. This has many advantages, such as reduced travel time and cost and therefore greater accessibility. But the flip side is that networking and informal discussion opportunities are often lost with online delivery. Hearing that a colleague from another organisation or part of the country is experiencing the same challenges as you are can sometimes make a big difference to how you feel about your job. 

We want to provide our members with an opportunity to meet and share experiences with colleagues from across the country. CoramBAAF offers a wide variety of Practice Forums where professionals can discuss practice and share knowledge with colleagues. But the focus of the wellbeing sessions is our members’ own wellbeing. We hope that these sessions will be an online version of the supportive colleague who says; “How are you”, “I’m not surprised you’re feeling that way” and “Would like to hear what helped me when I was in that situation?” 

The theme of the first session was ‘Three phases of recovery from trauma’ (Herman, 1992), as discussed by Kate and Brian Cairns’ (2016). We discussed a wide definition of trauma as ‘anything that shatters our worldview and overwhelms our capacity to cope’ and whether living through a worldwide pandemic can be described as ‘traumatic’. We agreed that the pandemic certainly shattered our implicit expectation that we are in control of what we do, where we can go and who we meet. 

We explored the three phases of stabilisation, integration and adaptation in the context of being a keyworker. We described the first phase of trauma recovery, stabilisation, as a giddy sense of “I think I’m ok”. Just after a traumatic event, you are unlikely to be “ok”. You may be shocked at how your survival responses have got you through or kept you going in an overwhelming situation. The priorities in the stabilisation phase are to reduce chaos and uncertainty; to establish a sense of safety and stability and to share your experiences with a supportive listener.  

The second phase, integration, is characterised by a growing reflection about “What happened to me?” This is the stage when the impact of has happened hits home and also the stage when you may experience strong emotions or physical responses. The focus in this phase is to create a space to rest, recover and make sense of what has happened, often with the help of empathic others. 

The third phase, adaptation, is where people can genuinely say “I am ok again”. Perhaps not the same as before, but ok nonetheless. This is the time to rediscover social connections, have fun and perhaps take on a new challenge. 

I shared my own experience of going through a very difficult situation last year. Retrospectively, I spent a long stabilisation period assuring everyone that even though something bad had happened, I was actually perfectly ok. I didn’t want time off work and took on lots of extra tasks. Secretly, I was perhaps even a little bit proud that all my years of therapeutic training and supervision had clearly paid off, because I had been able to navigate such a horrible experience completely unscathed. But after weeks of non-stop activity a period of headaches and exhaustion followed. It was as if my body was telling my brain that if I was not going to stop and deal with what happened voluntarily, it would make me. This is where my therapeutic understanding and access to good supervision (as well as a holiday) really did help.

The participants in the session reflected on these stages in their breakout groups and fed back that it was helpful to unpick their own responses to the pandemic, as well as to other challenges they had experienced. For some, it helped to make sense of why the real impact of traumatic events may come sometime after the actual event. 

One of the breakout groups shared they had had an ‘enlightening’ shared insight. They realised that they had all focussed so much on stabilisation, integration and adaptation in professional lives, that they had accidentally become stuck in the stabilisation phase in their personal lives. They had worked so hard at adapting their working practices to offer a continued service to the children and families on their case load. But the energy this had taken had left very little space for integration at home, As a result, they still recognised a lack of safety and stability in their personal lives. We discussed practical ways to create a greater sense of calm and to perhaps make some space for reflection on the impact of the pandemic and the challenges that may still lie ahead.  

Enlightenment on a Wednesday lunchtime is a bigger outcome than we might have expected from our first wellbeing session and we certainly cannot guarantee a similar outcome for future sessions! However, we would very much like to see you at 12 o’clock on the first Wednesday of the month to explore ways to reduce the mental chatter and create a greater sense of calm. Find out more about the next session


Hetty Verhagen, Training and Consultancy Manager