Care for Caregivers

Brief Facts and Tips

  1. Parents, teachers, and other caregivers play a critical role in helping children cope with crises. It is extremely important, however, for caregivers to monitor their own reactions and take care of their own needs as failure to do so can result in stress and burnout.
  2. Burnout interferes with one's ability to provide crisis intervention assistance. This can be true in the aftermath of immediate crisis like a natural disaster or terrorist attack as well as during extended periods of stress and anxiety like the war in Iraq.
  3. In addition to burnout, caregivers also may experience secondary trauma or stress that results from learning about another’s traumatic experience and/or helping someone who has been directly affected by such tragedy.
  4. While any caregiver may exhibit signs and symptoms of stress and secondary trauma, caregivers who have their own histories of prior psychological trauma, loss/grief, mental illness (including substance abuse), or who lack social and family resources will be more vulnerable to these issues.
  5. Some reactions are commonly experienced by caregivers after a crisis; however, others may warrant professional support or monitoring. These include:
    1. Cognitive reactions such as an inability to stop thinking about the crisis, loss of objectivity, an inability to make decisions, and/or express oneself verbally or in writing.
    2. Physical reactions such as chronic fatigue and exhaustion, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, and other aches and pains, loss of appetite, and/or difficulty sleeping.
    3. Emotional reactions such as excessive worry or anxiety, numbing, irritability, anger or rage, distressing thoughts or dreams, and/or suicidal thoughts and/or severe depression.
    4. Behavioral/Social reactions such as alcohol and substance abuse, withdrawal from contact with loved ones, and/or an inability to complete/return to normal job responsibilities.
  6. All caregivers need to consider the following suggestions to prevent burnout:
    1. Physical self-care: Maintain healthy eating habits and drink plenty of water; limit the use of alcohol or other substances; adequate sleep; exercise.
    2. Emotional Self-care: Know your limitations; recognize that your reactions are normal and occur frequently among caregivers, including many well-trained crisis professionals.
    3. Social care and connection: Maintain normal daily routines; connect with trusted friends or family; process or debrief the events at the end of each day with other caregivers or colleagues. This is especially important for crisis responders.
    4. Systems/Procedural Care: Advocating for and setting limits on the number of consecutive responses; policies that allow for crisis responders to step away from a response if the crisis hits too close to home; crisis team leaders establishing a supportive atmosphere of self-care.

References:

Brock, S.E., Nickerson, A.B., Reeves, M.A., Jimerson, S.R., Lieberman, R.A., & Feinberg, T.A. (2009). School crisis prevention and intervention: The PREPaRE model. Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.

Brymer, M., Jacobs, A., Layne, C., Pynoos, R., Ruzek, J., Steinberg, A., & Watson, P. (2006). Psychological first aid: Field operations guide (2nd ed.). Rockville, MD: National Child Traumatic Stress Network and National Center for PTSD. Retrieved June 25, 2013 from http://www.nctsn.org/nccts/nav.do?pid=typ_terr_resources_pfa.

Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress. (n.d.). Grief leadership: Leadership in the wake of tragedy. Bethesda, MD: Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences. Retrieved June 25, 2013 from http://www.cstsonline.org/grief-leadership-leadership-in-the-wake-of-tragedy/.

Crepeau-Hobson, F., & Kanan, L.M. (2013-14). After the tragedy: Caring for the caregivers. Phi Delta Kappan, 954), 33-37.

Crepeau-Hobson, F., & Summers, L.L. (2011). The crisis response to a school-based hostage event: A case study. Journal of School Violence, 10, 281–298.

© 2015, National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway, Suite 402, Bethesda, MD 20814; (301) 657-0270, Fax (301) 657-0275; www.nasponline.org

Related Resources

Care for the Caregiver: Guidelines for Administrators and Crisis Teams
Schools must be prepared to support all the adults in the school setting following a crisis.