|Hazmat Suit for the Soul—Part 3 of 3|
|By Caterina Spinaris|
A prior version of this article was printed on Corrections.com January 03, 2011. It has been updated and reprinted with permission from Correctional Oasis: Volume 12, Issue 11.
Continued from the September 2015 issue of the Correctional Oasis. A prior version of this article was printed in the Correctional Oasis, January 2010 issue.
In Part 2 of this article, a distinction was made between true resilience and what has been labelled as “negative resilience,” in relation to military personnel and first responders . Negative resilience is believed to be the result of avoidance strategies, such as denial and dissociation, and its façade of toughness can collapse as undealtwith psychological pressures mount. Therefore, the quest for solid and enduring resilience is of primary importance, as literally lives may depend on it.
What can be done to help increase the resilience of the public safety workforce and more specifically that of corrections staff? Doing so would very likely lead to improvements in staff morale, and in the lowering of sick leave rates, work-related disability claims, and staff turnover.
To begin with, what is meant by resilience? As stated in Part 2, Desert Waters’ researchers defined resilience as a degree of immunity to health-degrading consequences of high-stress events (Denhof & Spinaris, 2015). So, psychological resilience is not viewed as an all-or-nothing construct—either present or absent. Rather, it is defined in relative terms, as resistance to the manifestation of negative health signs and conditions despite exposure to events that tend to affect health adversely. For example, highly resilient corrections staff may still exhibit some negative health signs following exposure to high-stress events, but these signs may be relatively few, compared to what is exhibited by staff with less resilience.
To use the hazmat suit analogy once again, staff may still suffer some effects of toxic exposure, and their hazmat suit may show some tears, but these might be significantly less than what they could have suffered had they not been wearing their hazmat suits.
Effective hazmat suits for the soul can be provided through two primary means: (a) strategies which target prevention, and (b) strategies which target intervention.
Prevention methods are inoculation-type, long-term approaches, where lifestyle strategies are taught and skills are trained before high-stress workplace events happen. Prevention involves embracing health-promoting practices as habitual behaviors that foster health and wellness, with the goal to neutralize negative consequences of stressors. These methods include ways of thinking that counter negativity and boost optimism. Prevention methods also involve strategies for taking care of one’s physical, psychological and spiritual health and overall well-being.
Intervention methods, on the other hand, involve strategies to counter negative consequences of high-stress events and promote wellness following exposure to them—that is, after a high-stress incident. Such strategies may be brief and may be implemented short-term. They are easier to engage in if the groundwork has already been laid to some degree through long-term and habitual resilience-promoting behaviors. Staff members who are well-versed in practicing positive behaviors prior to a high-stress incident are most likely going to be at an advantage compared to staff members who are not. If the analogy of a 4-mile race is used, staff members whose lifestyle includes regular use of resilience-promoting behaviors are starting at, for example, 30 yards closer to the finish line than staff members who have not been practicing such behaviors regularly.
Research studies have helped identify several prevention-type protective factors that increase positive resilience in the face of traumatic or other high-stress exposure . Some of these factors are social connectedness, effective emotional regulation, identifying positive aspects of negative situations, and other types of positive thinking.
Through Desert Waters’ research studies we have also identified four categories of behaviors (factors) that are specifically associated with resilience in the corrections workforce. These behaviors are measured by the Corrections Staff Resilience Inventory™  (CSRI, Denhof & Spinaris, 2014), a psychometrically sound assessment instrument that provides information on the extent to which an individual or an entire corrections workforce at an agency, a facility or office engages in these specific resilience-promoting behaviors. The categories of these behaviors are: (1) Supportive Staff Relationship Efforts; (2) Self-care Health Maintenance Efforts; (3) Confident/Perseverant Frame of Mind; and (4) Controlled/Logical Problem Solving.
What follows is a description of each of the four factors in some detail, and ways in which staff can practice behaviors associated with each factor in order to boost their resilience.
Friedman, M., & Higson-Smith,, C. (2003). Building Psychological Resilience: Learning from the South African Police Service. In Paton, D., Violanti, J.M. & Smith, L.M., (Eds.), Promoting Capabilities to Manage Posttraumatic Stress: Perspectives on Resilience. Charles C. Thomas, Springfield, IL.
Meredith, L.S., Sherbourne, C.D., Gaillot, S., Hansell, L., Hans V., Ritschard, H.V., Parker, A.M., & Wren, G. (2011). Promoting Psychological Resilience in the U.S. Military. RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research.
Denhof, M.D. (2014). Corrections Staff Resilience Inventory.
Editor's note: Caterina Spinaris is the Executive Director at Desert Waters Correctional Outreach and a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Colorado. She continues to contribute to the field of corrections staff well-being individually and organizationally, in particularly regarding issues of traumatic stress due to exposure to violence, injury, death on the job, and also issues of organizational climate improvement.
Visit the Caterina Spinaris page
Other articles by Spinaris:
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