Community-based psychological support – Module 6: Helping the helpers
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
The traditional heroic role of helpers includes expectations that they are selfless, tireless, and somehow superhuman. Helpers are, however, also affected by their jobs. Red Cross – Red Crescent volunteers will often leave their jobs with a feeling of not having done enough, because needs in many situations are so overwhelming that they by far exceed their capabilities. A volunteer might be troubled by the tormenting stories of disaster survivors, first aid volunteers may feel guilt at the death of a patient, or volunteers in HIV/AIDS programmes feel despair faced with the repetitive cycle of death. It is not uncommon that volunteers are also infected and must cope with their own fears of death and deterioration as they assist others.
This module emphasizes ways in which helpers can support themselves and their colleagues by recognizing the signs of stress and burnout, and learning techniques which may help to alleviate or prevent severe emotional reactions. While it is not aimed specifically at programme managers, it does demonstrate the role that managers have in creating and sustaining a supportive working environment if helpers are themselves to be supported.