Putting staff well-being at the centre of the pandemic response
HARP is a charity based in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, which helps local people who are homeless or at risk of losing their home. The charity provides a mixture of immediate-term emergency services and accommodation, and longer-term support and housing.
The organisation constantly reviews its work practices, with the aim of embedding a trauma-informed approach to all its services. Diane Ainslie, HARP’s service manager, told me that they “recognised the stressors for staff working daily with people with the co-occurring conditions of trauma-related mental health and substance use disorders.”
Although they already supported staff with de-escalation training and tools for dealing with challenging behaviour from service users, they realised that there was a gap in terms of helping frontline workers to manage the emotional and psychological impact on themselves. They provided trauma-informed care to their service users and felt it was important to offer their staff the same level of support.
The Staff Well-Being Project
HARP’s Trustees approved for funding to be ring-fenced within the organisation’s budget, for a qualified professional to deliver quarterly team reflective-practice sessions and weekly one-to-one sessions for staff suffering due to a work-related traumatic event or general stress. The aim was to enhance well-being, resilience and retention by offering trauma-informed support.
One-to-one therapeutic support was extended to those service users presenting with intense trauma-related responses, to reduce the stress impact on staff working with them.
The project commenced just as COVID-19 hit, and proved even more valuable in providing psychological and emotional support through the worst of the pandemic. HARP’s senior team recognised that the pandemic placed stresses on all the Charity’s staff, not just frontline workers, so expanded the support package to include employees in any role, including those furloughed or working from home.
Once lockdown began to ease we were able to address any issues arising within fragmented teams, support staff preparing for re-entry into the workplace, and provide one-to-one support for people who had been personally affected.
A different approach to well-being
HARP CEO Jackie Bliss commissioned the initial twelve-week pilot after hearing about my innovative approach to helping people, especially working with stress and trauma-related issues.
Among other methodologies, I use a new psychotherapy model called Brain Working Recursive Therapy (BWRT), which is particularly effective because it is consistent with current developments in neuroscience.
One aspect of this style of therapy that makes it so successful is that it’s largely content-free. People don’t have to disclose details of the experiences that have brought them into therapy. This can make all the difference to someone in reaching out for help.
As well as teaching individual techniques to reduce stress, in the team reflective-practice sessions, I deliver guided visualisations and meditations - practices known to help reduce the impact of stress on the mind and body, to any staff who wish to take part.
Seeing the impact
Members of HARP’s team shared their experience of the Staff Well-Being Project:
Heather Glover, a Support Worker in HARP’s Day Service: “I was lucky enough to experience one-to-one well-being sessions that HARP kindly provided to their employees. The sessions in my opinion can be life changing for work practice, and personally beneficial in learning relaxation techniques through guided meditations. They have provided me with life-long skills in working more confidently and effectively.”
Kay Cohen, a Housing Support Worker: “I have found the well-being groups extremely helpful. I have also used the one-to-one sessions to cope with Covid anxiety, and because I found, in some situations in the work place, my own trauma was being triggered. I have found the sessions beneficial in my role to work effectively with the team and residents.”
Millie West, a Housing Support Worker: “Without speaking about the ins and outs of what I was going through, which is normally very painful, I was able to feel comfortable and really open myself up to the therapy - which was completely different to anything I had done before. The effects continue to be amazing. I deal with things a lot better and can go back to the techniques when I fall back into old habits, snapping me out of them easily.”
The Staff Well-Being Project three-month pilot proved so successful that Jackie quickly agreed to extend the project by a further six months, and we’ve now been able to reflect on its benefits. We’ve noticed that, for example, alongside some positive feedback about the reflective-practice sessions, personal therapy take-up is highest amongst staff after these group sessions.
Importantly, as the project establishes itself within the organisation’s culture of trauma-informed care, staff are making full use of the service by returning for one-to-one appointments when needed, such as when experiencing vicarious trauma following an incident in the workplace.
Our #EveryoneInForGood Member Blog Series highlights the positive innovation and practice of frontline homelessness services during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting successful outcomes for the people they support. It advocates for the important role of Homeless Link’s members in the next phase of the response, while inspiring and motivating others.
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Claire Gaskin BSc., Psychotherapist. Claire previously worked in frontline services for over 25 years and has extensive experience in managing teams of key workers.