Applying Psychological First Aid to workplace bullying and mobbing

Is Psychological First Aid a useful tool for coaches, union representatives, employee assistance program specialists, lawyers and legal workers, peer group facilitators, and others who are providing support to those who have experienced workplace bullying and mobbing?

I recently completed an online, continuing education course in Psychological First Aid (PFA) (link here), offered by Johns Hopkins University via Coursera, one of the most popular providers of open enrollment, university-level online courses . The Johns Hopkins course is taught by psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor George Everly, a leading authority on PFA and co-author, with Jeffrey Lating, of The Johns Hopkins Guide to Psychological First Aid (2017). The course itself takes about 8-10 hours to complete, ideally over a span of a few weeks. The course itself is free of charge, with an added fee for a certificate of completion.

Dr. Everly developed his PFA model to provide first responders who are not trained as counselors with knowledge and training to assist those who have experienced traumatic events, such as displacement due to wars, severe weather events, and other man-made and natural disasters. His model is called “RAPID PFA.” Here are the sequential steps covered in the course:

  • R — “Establishing Rapport and Reflective Listening”
  • A — “Assessment/Listening to the Story
  • P — “Psychological Triage/Prioritization
  • I — “Intervention Tactics to Stabilize and Mitigate Acute Distress”
  • D — “Disposition and Facilitating Access to Continued Care”

The final piece of the course relates to the importance of self-care for those providing PFA.

At no time does PFA call upon someone to render a clinical diagnosis. (That would be wrong on so many levels!) Rather, PFA is designed to help non-clinical individuals facilitate emotional and practical support for those who have experienced traumatic events. This may include, when necessary, referrals to professional mental health and medical care, as well as other tangible forms of assistance.

PFA for workplace bullying and mobbing?

I’ve given a lot of thought as to how Dr. Everly’s RAPID PFA model can be deployed to help those who have experienced severe work abuse. I think it’s a very helpful model for non-clinical folks who are providing support to targets of workplace bullying and mobbing. RAPID PFA not only offers a useful, simple framework for providing support and guidance, but also sets markers for when referrals to professional mental health care may be needed.

Research examining the RAPID PFA model has validated its effectiveness as an early intervention tool, especially when rendered soon after a precipitating event. Herein lies a challenge toward applying PFA to workplace abuse situations: All too often, the mistreatment builds over time, especially in the more covert or indirect forms. In such cases, there may be no single, major traumatic event that prompts someone to seek help. Accordingly, targets frequently wait to seek assistance, as work abuse can take an inordinately long time to process and comprehend. In such instances, a lot of emotional damage may have taken place before someone seeks help.

Finally, the RAPID PFA model is designed to help care providers make fairly quick assessments under scenarios where large numbers of people may suddenly need help. By contrast, we know that many targets of work abuse feel the need to share their stories in significant detail. It is a natural and understandable dynamic, but it can make the process of identifying next steps anything but, well, rapid.

Nevertheless, the RAPID PFA model holds a lot of promise as an early intervention protocol for helping people deal with workplace bullying and mobbing situations. For those who want to provide initial support and guidance to targeted individuals, it provides a straightforward, evidence-based approach for doing so, while helping us to understand appropriate boundaries between lay assistance and professional mental health care.

3 Questions for Linda Crockett, founder of the Alberta Bullying Research, Resources, Recovery Centre, Inc.

Linda Crockett, Alberta Bullying Research, Resources, Recovery Centre, Inc., Canada

Linda Crockett is the founder of the Alberta Bullying Research, Resources, Recovery Centre, Inc. (ABRC) in Alberta, Canada.  She is a clinical social worker, therapist, trainer, and advocate with a deep commitment to the workplace anti-bullying movement.

I had the pleasure of meeting Linda last April at the Workplace Bullying Institute’s “All-Star edition” of its well-known Workplace Bullying University training and education seminar. Because of her important work and deep dedication to helping those who have experienced bullying and abuse at work, I thought she would be an ideal subject to revive the “3 Questions” interview feature that I had done back in 2012-13. 

  1. Linda, please tell us a bit about ABRC and what prompted you to create it.

David, I started ABRC after I experienced bullying in my workplace. It wasn’t the first time for me, but it was the time I hit rock bottom. I had been in social work for 22 years and I knew how to assess, investigate, and address all kinds of abuse. I was highly experienced with complex, politically sensitive cases of abuse. I trained child abuse investigators. I had hundreds of cases of domestic violence, addictions, and sexual abuse. I knew the signs and the systems in place to assist with abuse; medical teams, legal, criminal, insurance, human resources, unions, and recovery services.

Yet when I hit rock bottom, I was in shock that I could be the one being abused. I worked in a hospital for cancer patients and I was being abused by my supervisor and manager. There was no language or training for me to identify this insidious, confusing, passive aggressive nightmare. It was so crazy making, with everyone telling me to keep my head down. I began to doubt my own natural ability to ‘see, hear, think, sense, and feel.”

When I came to terms with the shame I felt, I went looking for help, but there was nothing. Therapists made me feel worse because neither of us knew what we were dealing with. After some healing, I created this resource to help others, build awareness, and offer appropriate services. If I could not identify it, how would others manage? Especially if English was not their first language!

I completed a master’s degree specializing in this area, attended training at the Workplace Bullying Institute, joined the International Association on Workplace Bullying and Harassment, and began collaborating with others doing this work. In 2012 I started ABRC and so far, I have won two awards. I train leaders, staff of all professions, and offer needs assessments, consultations, and coaching. I’ve lobbied for legislative changes, and as a trauma therapist, I offer specialized counselling or clinical therapy for those harmed, and for those identified through investigations as harming others.

  1. What projects and initiatives are you concentrating on right now, and how might readers want to learn more?

I offer training all year round and customize my training for each organization’s unique needs. As you know, the Workplace Bullying Institute has “Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week” each year. This year it is Oct 13 – 19. This is my 6th year joining WBI by having “Workplace Bullying Awareness Week.” I have invited all Provinces in Canada to join me and hope that in time, this will become worldwide! I believe we need to address this as a worldwide issue. There is power in numbers and you can’t get any bigger than that!  

I put on trainings, post blogs, stories, articles, or videos, and posters.  My colleague Pat Ferris and I are launching a 1-2-day specialized training for counselors and therapists around the world. This will be the first such training of its kind! It will be an amazing training opportunity to help professionals working with individuals or groups of people harmed by workplace bullying. With our growing awareness and changes in legislation, we will need more helping professionals trained to offer skilled and appropriate support and treatment.

Readers can go to my website, join social media, and share my posts so others can see they are not alone. People can also email me if they would like more information or a consult, or counselling.  We offer sessions via skype or zoom so locations won’t limit us.

  1. Where do you see the workplace anti-bullying movement going in Canada, and how would you like to be involved in the years to come?

Sadly, we still have Provinces in Canada that do not have laws against bullying in the workplace. I am confident they will join us. My hope is that they will not waste time trying to reinvent the wheel.  I and Pat Ferris are available to help other Provinces implement new legislation and learn from our Provinces’ mistakes.

Also, within each of our Provinces we have many unions, human resource workers, medical teams, insurance companies, investigators, mediators, lawyers, and many more, who are not taking in-depth training. Some are just checking boxes taking a one-hour webinar, but this is not sufficient. ABRC’s training offers a holistic perspective that includes the “human experience” of this issue. This includes the employee targeted, the bystander who struggles with reporting, the employee who is harming others, the difficulties for leadership, and the impact on the organizations.

Most importantly my training offers “what to do about each of these aspects.” Bottom line, we need a team of experts willing to work collaboratively to provide services for all levels involved.  This is a complex issue with multiple layers. A holistic understanding and approach is the only way to restore a work culture, prevent further harm, ensure early intervention, and offer a variety of restorative or repair options.

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Linda also wishes to share her contact information:

Website         www.abrc.ca

Email              lrmcrockett@gmail.com

Twitter           @BullyingAlberta

LinkedIn        http://www.linkedin.com/in/LindaCrockettABRC

Facebook        @workerssafety

Instagram     Alberta_bullying_resources

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With this post, I am reviving an interview format from 2012-13. “3 Questions” will be a regular feature presenting short interviews with notable individuals whose work and activities overlap with major themes of this blog. Go here to access earlier interviews in the series.

MTW Revisions: July 2019

In this regular feature, each month I’m reviewing some of the 1,700+ entries to this blog since 2008 and opting to revise and update several of them. I hope that readers find the revised posts useful and interesting. Here are this month’s selections:

After being bullied at work, what next? (orig. 2009; rev. 2016 & 2019) (link here) — “Oftentimes, workplace bullying leaves a target’s head spinning. Whether of the overt or covert variety, or perhaps both, work abuse can be quickly destabilizing. It’s hard to get one’s bearings. …All of this boils down to the fact that targets must often consider their options on their own. For those who are in such a position, here are several questions to ask and answer, ideally earlier rather than later….”

The sociopathic employee handbook (orig. 2016; rev. 2019) (link here) — “I once had an opportunity to review provisions of an employee handbook from a large, mostly non-union employer in the non-profit sector. . . . Heh, among my reactions was that this handbook read like the handiwork of a sociopathic lawyer!”

What is at-will employment? (orig. 2015; rev. 2019) (link here) — “The legal rule of at-will employment is the presumptive employment relationship in the United States. It means that an employer can hire or terminate a worker for any reason or no reason at all, so long as that action does not violate existing legal protections. . . . Outside the U.S., at-will employment is not the norm. In many industrialized nations, workers can be terminated only for just cause, which usually means inadequate performance, serious misconduct, or financial exigency.”

Tribes for brewing ideas and engaging in positive change (orig. 2015; rev. 2019) (link here) — “Today, tribes may form and sustain with members spread across the land. Physical proximity helps a lot, of course, especially in the form of periodic conferences and meetings. But the online world can be a way of sustaining and building those bonds too, especially when face-to-face interactions are less feasible.”

MTW Newsstand: July 2019

Every month, the “MTW Newsstand” brings you a curated selection of articles relevant to work, workers, and workplaces. Whenever possible, the pieces are freely accessible. Here are this month’s offerings:

Caitlin Flanagan, “The Problem With HR,” The Atlantic (2019) (link here) — “If HR is such a vital component of American business, its tentacles reaching deeply into many spheres of employees’ work lives, how did it miss the kind of sexual harassment at the center of the #MeToo movement? And given that it did, why are companies still putting so much faith in HR?”

Shahida Arabi, “Bullied by Narcissists at Work? 3 Ways Narcissistic Co-Workers and Bosses Sabotage You,” PsychCentral (2019) (link here) — “If you work or have worked in a traditional corporate environment, chances are you’ve run into a narcissist or sociopath in your career. Research suggests that psychopathic personalities do climb the corporate ladder more readily and are able to charm and gain trust from other co-workers and management to do so.”

Quentin Fottrell, “Is your boss a psychopath?,” MarketWatch (2019) (link here) — “Do you ever wonder why the bad guy is in charge — and the good guy is pushing paper? There may be a reason for that. Bad bosses often promise the world, according to Deborah Ancona, a professor of leadership at MIT Sloan School of Management and founder of the MIT Leadership Center, and hard-working employees can be left to deal with the aftereffects. ‘Toxic leaders are often talking about all the great things that they can do,’ she told MIT Sloan.”

Amy Coveno, “As adults, some former bullies try to keep history from repeating,” WMUR (2019) (link here) —  “News 9 put out a call on Facebook for former bullies to tell their stories.”

Ruchika Tulshyan, “How to Reduce Personal Bias When Hiring,” Harvard Business Review (2019) (link here) — “Changes in process and diversity initiatives alone are not going to remedy the lack of equal representation in companies. Individual managers who are often making the final hiring decisions need to address their own bias.”

Randall J. Beck & Jim Harter, “Why Great Managers Are So Rare,” Gallup (2019) (link here) — “Gallup finds that great managers have the following talents….”

Janelle Nanos, “Wayfair walkout is part of a new era of employee activism,” Boston Globe (2019) (link here) — “Employees of Wayfair, the online furniture giant based in the Back Bay, weren’t planning to stage a walkout on Wednesday. But when the company’s leadership shrugged off workers’ objections to fulfilling a $200,000 furniture order for detention centers on the US-Mexico border, ‘Wayfairians’ became the latest group of tech co-workers to start a social activist movement targeting their own employer.”

The privileges of creating a “body of work”

Four years ago, I wrote about Pamela Slim‘s Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together (2013), which invites us to examine — in the author’s words — “the personal legacy you leave at the end of your life, including all the tangible and intangible things you have created” (link here). She defines “body of work” this way:

Your body of work is everything you create, contribute, affect, and impact. For individuals, it is the personal legacy you leave at the end of your life, including all the tangible and intangible things you have created.

I first wrote about this concept in 2009:

Until recently, I’ve regarded the term “body of work” as being somewhat odd.  It refers to an individual’s total output, or at least a substantial part of it.  We often hear “body of work” invoked when assessing an individual’s creative, artistic, or athletic endeavors, as in looking at the career of a great musician, writer, or baseball player.

But I’ve come to realize that we all produce our own body of work, even if we are not famous artists or athletes.  It may include work we are paid for, but it also may capture contributions as parents, friends, caregivers, volunteers, and members of the community.  For some, their “day job” of showing up to work or caring for children may be complemented by starting a band, coaching a softball team, or singing in a community chorus.  Taking into account all of these possibilities, our body of work represents our contributions to this world while we are a part of it.

And here’s another dimension that I’ve come to realize with much greater clarity: If one is sufficiently fortunate to be able to conceptualize their life in this manner, then one is very privileged. For countless millions around the world, it’s not about building a body of work; rather, it’s about meeting basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, health care, and safety.

This understanding leads me to a popular maxim: To whom much is given, much is expected. The phrase actually has its roots in Scripture. Here’s one version from The Oxford Study Bible:

When one has been given much, much will be expected of him; and the more he has had entrusted to him the more will be demanded of him. (Luke 12:48)

I don’t usually go around quoting the Bible. My own religious beliefs are that of a non-denominational believer, i.e., believing in a God whose truth is to be found somewhere in the intersection of various faith traditions. I also respect those who are devout believers, agnostics, or atheists.

Nevertheless, the basic sentiment sticks with me. Those of us who are privileged, nay, blessed, to think of our lives as encompassing a body of work have a responsibility to help others and to make the world a better place. How that is done is an individual decision, hopefully rendered with gratitude, empathy, and understanding.

On the social responsibilities of writers

(Photo by DY, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston)

I’d like to take a Sunday dive into the nature of writing to fuel positive individual and social change. This may be especially relevant to readers who write about fostering psychologically healthier workplaces that are free from bullying, mobbing, and abuse.

The writing bug bit me a long time ago. Most tangibly, I can trace it back to being an editor and reporter for my college and law school newspapers. More recently, I’ve been blogging for over 10 years and writing academic articles and book chapters for over 25 years. In addition, over the decades, I’ve written dozens of other shorter pieces, op-ed columns, and newsletter articles.

Over this long span of time, I’ve tried to be responsible about what I put out there for public consumption, however modest that readership might be at times. I have debated and argued with editors about how certain information is characterized. For the briefest of pieces, I have sometimes spent hours tweaking sentences and paragraphs. When writing about legal matters, I have tried to exercise care in how I discuss ideas, concepts, and potential rights.

But I confess that only within the past few years have I started to regard writing for a public audience as a more sacred responsibility that requires close consideration of how my words will be received. That understanding has come about mainly via reader feedback to this blog, especially from those who have been experiencing workplace bullying or mobbing. On several occasions, I have received e-mails or comments from readers, saying that my writings helped to save their lives, mostly by giving them validating knowledge and understanding about the nature and effects of work abuse, and sometimes by giving them ideas for how to address their respective situations.

Of course, I do not assume that all readers pore over my words with close scrutiny. After all, for better or worse, especially during the digital age, we’ve become used to skimming more than reading. Furthermore, as I sometimes chide my professorial colleagues when we’re whining about students not paying sufficient attention to our golden insights, we shouldn’t expect them to await our every word with breathless anticipation.

Nevertheless, when someone shares with you that your writings have been validating and even life-saving, then it’s time to sit up straight and grasp the potential power of the written word. Those of us who are writing about work abuse need to comprehend that at least some of our readers may be experiencing terrible mistreatment at work and suffering greatly as a result. For me, this includes, among other things:

  • Keeping in mind a readership of bullying/mobbing targets when I write about this topic;
  • Avoiding any suggestion that work abuse situations lend themselves to easy, one-size-fits-all responses and solutions;
  • Staying away from use of clickbait-type titles that promise more than the article delivers; and,
  • Maintaining a Need Help? resource page on my blog (link here).

This doesn’t mean that I’m going to get it right every time. I’ve written over 1,700 pieces for this blog, and some of them have fallen well short of excellence — or even very good. Especially during my earlier years of blogging, some of my posts were unnecessarily punchy or facile in tone. Within the past few years, however, I feel like I’ve found my “blogging voice” in a way that presents my most authentic self.

We badly need writing that embraces authenticity, careful judgment and analysis, and the speaking of truth to power, at a time when the Powers That Be aren’t listening closely enough. Our quest is a long-term one, so words that endure are more valuable than those whose relevance disappears within a news cycle. In this spirit, I hope that fellow writers who are devoted to making the world a better place are also finding their best voices to enlighten us.

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A quick P.S. about Twitter: I know lots of people who use Twitter very effectively. And some have graciously used Twitter to share posts from this blog. However, I’ve avoided opening a Twitter account. For me, writing in 280 character (or less) blocs, and paying attention to the same, is not my preferred form of engagement. Furthermore, it tempts a more biting side of my sense of humor that is best reserved for friends. 

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Shawn Ginwright: From “trauma informed care” to “healing centered engagement”

Today I’m happy to share the work of Dr. Shawn Ginwright, a San Francisco State University professor who devotes himself to challenges facing young people in urban areas. Dr. Ginwright asserts that rather than focusing on “trauma informed care,” we should embrace a framework of “healing centered engagement.” Although he is a practitioner of trauma informed care, he sees some limitations in the concept. Here’s a snippet of what he wrote last year in Medium (link here):

More recently, practitioners and policy stakeholders have recognized the impact of trauma on learning, and healthy development. In efforts to support young people who experience trauma, the term “trauma informed care” has gained traction among schools, juvenile justice departments, mental health programs and youth development agencies around the country.

…While trauma informed care offers an important lens to support young people who have been harmed and emotionally injured, it also has its limitations. I first became aware of the limitations of the term “trauma informed care” during a healing circle I was leading with a group of African American young men. All of them had experienced some form of trauma ranging from sexual abuse, violence, homelessness, abandonment or all of the above. During one of our sessions, I explained the impact of stress and trauma on brain development and how trauma can influence emotional health. As I was explaining, one of the young men in the group named Marcus abruptly stopped me and said, “I am more than what happened to me, I’m not just my trauma”. I was puzzled at first, but it didn’t take me long to really contemplate what he was saying.

The term “trauma informed care” didn’t encompass the totality of his experience and focused only on his harm, injury and trauma.

Toward healing centered engagement

Ginwright goes on to suggest that we should look at healing from trauma in a more holistic way:

What is needed is an approach that allows practitioners to approach trauma with a fresh lens which promotes a holistic view of healing from traumatic experiences and environments. One approach is called healing centered, as opposed to trauma informed. A healing centered approach is holistic involving culture, spirituality, civic action and collective healing. A healing centered approach views trauma not simply as an individual isolated experience, but rather highlights the ways in which trauma and healing are experienced collectively. The term healing centered engagement expands how we think about responses to trauma and offers more holistic approach to fostering well-being.

A healing centered approach to addressing trauma requires a different question that moves beyond “what happened to you” to “what’s right with you” and views those exposed to trauma as agents in the creation of their own well-being rather than victims of traumatic events.

Although I have written about the importance of understanding psychological trauma, I agree with Ginwright’s preferred framework. Being trauma informed is very important, but it’s just part of the process of healing centered engagement. Furthermore, we might also consider that healing centered engagement naturally incorporates the idea of post-traumatic growth, another important concept that I wrote about last year (go here for link).

Ginwright’s focus also reinforces what I’ve tried to communicate many times here, namely, that social problems must be scrutinized at both the individual and systematic levels. This includes examining the political, social, and economic cultures that create and enable abusive mistreatment of others. 

Applied to workplace bullying and mobbing

This is very relevant to workplace bullying, mobbing, and other forms of worker mistreatment. Severe work abuse can wreak havoc on an individual’s mental and physical health. It can significantly undermine one’s ability to pursue a livelihood and a career. These behaviors rarely occur in a vacuum. Rather, they are typically enabled by the organization and its leadership.

In other words, the actors in work abuse situations and their impacts are often multifaceted — or, to add a twist, negatively holistic. In response, then, we should look at preventing and responding to bullying and mobbing in a more positive holistic, systemic way.

Finally, healing centered engagement helps to focus us away from trauma or victimization as a defining status, without ignoring the underlying mistreatment, its effects, and frequent lack of accountability that come with it. As the young man in Dr. Ginwright’s youth group told him, “I am more than what happened to me, I’m not just my trauma.” 

Applied to law and public policy

Healing centered engagement carries a lot of significance for practitioners of therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ), a school of legal thought that supports psychologically healthy outcomes in legal proceedings and the creation of laws that advance individual and societal well being.

Among other things, how can lawyers, judges, and other practitioners support laws and policies that support healing centered engagement? How can our systems of justice and dispute resolution do the same? Healing from trauma is relevant to many, many aspects of the design and application of our laws and legal systems.

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As I’ve written here before, I sometimes use this blog to share “pondering in progress.” I’m doing that here. I’ve got more thinking to do about this concept of healing centered engagement, but it resonates with me on many levels. I hope it prompts some useful thinking for you, too.

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Additional notes

  • Dr. Ginwright later revised his Medium piece and added references for an Occasional Paper published by an Australian social services agency, Kinship Carers Victoria. You may freely access it here. For a YouTube video including Ginwright’s 2018 conference presentation, go here.
  • I serve on the boards of two organizations relevant to the commentary above, and I invite readers to learn more about them. First is Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies, a global network of scholars, writers, practitioners, artists, activists, and students who are committed to advancing human dignity and reducing the experience of humiliation. Go here for the HumanDHS website. Second is the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence, a new non-profit organization dedicated to the mainstreaming of therapeutic jurisprudence perspectives in our laws and legal systems. Go here for the ISTJ website

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