Professional support

What can I do to look after myself?

Your employers should offer training and support in order to help you manage the challenges of the work. If you find that your work continues to have a negative impact on you and your relationships then you should find out what additional support your organisation can provide.  This may involve further training, counselling or sometimes changes to your workload or the content of your work.

It is also important to note that some aspects of the work can be difficult to talk about or admit. Some professionals experience some signs of sexual arousal when reading material of sexual offences. This can be simply due to the brain recognising sexual language and responding to this, in which case a break from the work, by talking to a colleague or making a cup of tea, can be helpful. If professionals have any concerns that they may have an attraction to the material then they need to stop this area of work and seek professional help.

Personal boundaries – the use of personal disclosure

Depending on your role working with an offender, it can be appropriate to use personal disclosure to illustrate examples and model appropriate behaviour. You must be clear why you are sharing particular information and that it is within an appropriate context. You must also be clear with yourself what you are comfortable sharing and the reasons behind the personal disclosure.

Here are examples of when it would not be appropriate:

  • Discussing personal sexual attitudes, beliefs, activity
  • Personal family situation (although see below for safe references)
  • Disclosing personal or family victim issues

Here is an example of appropriate sharing of personal information:

  • Finding common ground with hobbies, activities
  • Examples of conflict resolution
  • Safe reference to family situation e.g. the offender is trying to convince you that they have no problems or difficulties in their current relationship. A response could be ‘From my personal experience of relationships I know they can have their ups and downs.’

At all times you must feel safe and comfortable within your role. Being clear on your personal boundaries facilitates your ability to maintain an appropriate role with the offender with whom you are working. You must have the ability to be assertive if these boundaries are crossed at any point.

Clear Roles and Responsibilities

How would you feel if an offender you were working with re-offended? Would you feel responsible, would you question your judgement and actions?

It can be very easy to feel a level of responsibility when an individual re-offends. You question yourself and your ability to make sound decisions e.g. did I put enough support in place, and did I consider all the risk factors?

What you must always remain clear about is that, if an offender re-offends, it is their choice and decision. You are accountable for your actions, and as long as you have made defensible decisions based on the evidence available you are not responsible for the individual’s behaviour.

Personal Support Network

Support can come from within and outside of your work. Your manager and colleagues can be useful sounding boards for advice and sharing the frustrations and emotions of the work. However sometimes they might not be available or you might find that you take some of the emotions home with you.

It is important to identify who is available outside of the work (partner, friend) to support you and what information you can share (remembering the importance of confidentiality). When deciding who you would chose to support you it is important to consider the following:

  • Impact of the work on them
  • Impact on your relationship
  • The importance of previously negotiating beforehand with the key individual whether they are willing and able to support you.

Coping strategies

We can all have a tendency when coping with a situation or problem to revert to avoidance tactics e.g. watching television, listening to music, keeping ourselves busy. We can also display an emotional response to a problem e.g. banging doors, shouting. These are normal short-term responses to problems, but for longer-term resolution consider the following:

Communication

Good communication involving honest and open dialogue about the impact of the work or concerns that you are having is the key to surviving when working in this area. The biggest strength to have is the ability to admit when you are struggling or are having problems dealing with a supervisee. Internalising these issues and not discussing them with the relevant individuals can be very dangerous. We all have a desire to be perceived as coping and can feel that, by admitting we are having problems, our ability to carry out the work will be called into question. In fact it is the exact opposite. Admitting difficulties and receiving support and guidance is one of the best coping strategies we can develop.

Re-framing

If you can’t change the stressor, change yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude.

  • Reframe problems. Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Rather than fuming about a traffic jam, look at it as an opportunity to pause and regroup, listen to your favorite radio station, or enjoy some alone time.
  • Look at the big picture. Take perspective of the stressful situation. Ask yourself how important it will be in the long run. Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it really worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.
  • Adjust your standards. Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with ‘good enough’.
  • Focus on the positive. When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts. This simple strategy can help you keep things in perspective.

Develop a “stress relief toolbox”

Think of a list of healthy ways to relax and recharge. Try to do one of these each day even if you are feeling good. Some examples:

  • Go for a walk.
  • Spend time in nature.
  • Call a good friend.
  • Go to the gym.
  • Take a long bath.
  • Light scented candles.
  • Cook a nice meal.
  • Savour a warm cup of coffee or tea.
  • Play with a pet.
  • Work in your garden.
  • Get a massage.
  • Read a good book.
  • Listen to music.
  • Watch a comedy.

Don’t get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of life that you forget to take care of your own needs. Nurturing yourself is a necessity, not a luxury.

  • Set aside relaxation time. Include rest and relaxation in your daily schedule. Don’t allow other obligations to encroach. This is your time to take a break from all responsibilities and recharge your batteries.
  • Connect with others. Spend time with positive people who enhance your life. A strong support system will buffer you from the negative effects of stress.
  • Do something you enjoy every day. Make time for leisure activities that bring you joy, whether it be stargazing, playing the piano, or working on your bike.
  • Keep your sense of humor. This includes the ability to laugh at yourself. The act of laughing helps your body fight stress in a number of ways.

Write down your thoughts

Writing down your thoughts can be a very effective way of helping to recognise what you are worried about and to reduce the impact of the thoughts. This can be particularly helpful if you do not have someone you can talk to about the thoughts or if you are worried about the impact of sharing these thoughts with someone else. You can keep a journal or write your thoughts down and then destroy the paper afterwards, whichever is more effective for you.  It is the process of the writing which is found to be effective.

Don’t forget the benefits!

  • Protection of the public
  • Offender change and wellness
  • Connection to colleagues
  • Enjoyment of counselling
  • Socially meaningful curiosity
  • Professional benefits

(Kadambi and Truscott, 2003)

Relaxation and self-care

General relaxation and self–care can be beneficial for dealing with stress. This should be planned and rehearsed in advance. Techniques include guided visualisation; progressive tensing and relaxing of the muscle groups; deep breathing; tuning into your heartbeat; yoga. It is impossible to feel relaxed and tense at the same time. Relaxation techniques can offer a way to effectively decrease tension, be it physical or emotional, which can often be a precursor to a trigger mood state.

Exercise

Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress, but you don’t have to be an athlete or spend hours in a gym to experience the benefits. Just about any form of physical activity can help relieve stress and burn away anger, tension, and frustration. Exercise releases endorphins which boost your mood and make you feel good and it can also serve as a valuable distraction to your daily worries.

While the maximum benefit comes from exercising for 30 minutes or more, you can start small and build up your fitness level gradually. Short, 10-minute bursts of activity that elevate your heart rate and make you break out into a sweat can help to relieve stress and give you more energy and optimism. Even very small activities can add up over the course of a day. The first step is to get yourself up and moving. Here are a few easy ways:

  • Put on some music and dance around
  • Take a lunch break and walk around the block
  • Take your dog for a walk
  • Use the stairs at work rather than the lift
  • Park your car in the farthest spot in the car park
  • Get off the bus one stop earlier
  • Pair up with an exercise partner and encourage each other as you workout
  • Play ping-pong or an activity-based video game with your kids

Once you’re in the habit of being physically active, try to incorporate regular exercise into your daily schedule. Activities that are continuous and rhythmic and require moving both your arms and your legs are especially effective at relieving stress. Walking, running, swimming, dancing, cycling, and aerobic classes are good choices.

Pick an activity you enjoy, so you’re more likely to stick with it. Instead of continuing to focus on your thoughts while you exercise, make a conscious effort to focus on your body and how it feels as you’re moving. Adding this mindfulness element to your exercise routine will help you break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that often accompanies overwhelming stress. Focus on coordinating your breathing with your movements, for example, or notice how the air or sunlight feels on your skin. Getting out of your head and paying attention to how your body feels is also the surest way to avoid picking up an injury.

Healthy lifestyle

In addition to regular exercise, there are other healthy lifestyle choices that can increase your resistance to stress.

Eat a healthy diet. Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress, so be mindful of what you eat. Start your day right with breakfast, and keep your energy up and your mind clear with balanced, nutritious meals throughout the day.
Reduce caffeine and sugar. The temporary ‘highs’ caffeine and sugar provide often end in with a crash in mood and energy. By reducing the amount of coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, and sugar snacks in your diet, you’ll feel more relaxed and you’ll sleep better.
Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs may provide an easy escape from stress, but the relief is only temporary. Don’t avoid or mask the issue at hand; deal with problems head-on and with a clear mind.
Get enough sleep. Adequate sleep fuels your mind, as well as your body. Feeling tired will increase your stress because it may cause you to think irrationally.


References:

  • Kadambi, M. A., & Truscott, D. (2003). Vicarious traumatization and burnout among therapists working with sex offenders. Traumatology, 9, 216-230.
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