Webinar presenters Matthew Kail and Duane Bowers answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Creating a CulturOrganizationaloinal Wellness. Here are some of their responses.
Audience Question: Do either of you use technology to help provide for self-care?
Duane Bowers: I specifically say no because their exposure to the material is through technology. It's through computers, the pads, the phones. I really try to stress non-computer, non-technology ways of coping mechanisms. Exercise, hobbies on the outside that are not technologically-oriented.
Matthew Kail: We don't rely on technology for this aspect. The socializing, team building type of activities, exercise, get out of the office, not looking at images, taking the last hour and a half of your shift doing paperwork, being careful when you have a picture of your child in the screen when you're looking at another with images on it. That's how we try to focus on that.
Audience Question: Can you comment on some of the issues that befall correctional officers? As a former warden, I had to move staff because of vicarious trauma. I had to move people from a college unit because of the number of deaths. I've also managed a sexual offender unit where people were held post-release, the issue of staff working with these dangerous folks is what they have done to others. Individual incidents are generally handled okay, but the ongoing trauma is sometimes forgotten. Could you talk a little bit about what you might see for a correctional institution and how they can deal with stress?
Matthew Kail: I don't have a lot of knowledge about the correctional system and its inner workings, but I can only imagine in the little exposure that I've had to it — that having some kind of wellness program in place or a way to shift personnel around from different units or to encourage some sort of way to talk about what they're dealing with. Their issues are just like ours. Sitting down with the warden, the assistant warden, the other command staff, supervisors, other employees and correctional officers, and saying, "Here are the problems that we're seeing in a daily basis with our personnel". We have to sit down and try to remedy this maybe we have, "you can only stay in this unit for so many months and then you'll be transferred", a rotational policy, things that in some way establish the trauma that's occurring within those specialties within the institution and try to mitigate them in a way that would allow wellness to the employees.
Audience Question: Do you have best practices that can help officers deal with cases and burn out?
Duane Bowers: Burnout often comes when we get overwhelmed with the details of the work and we forget why we're in the work. One of the ways to deal with burnout is to help remind ourselves and our co-workers, what is our passion and why do we get into this work? What was it that drew to this work to begin with and is it still there? One of the things I advocate is because this stuff that you're looking at, the images, there's a time limit on this. You don't need to be spending your whole career looking at child pornography, looking at images of kids getting raped. If you've reached a point where enough is enough then be honest about that and be able to say, "Okay, I need to move, I need to look for something else, I need to think about some other area to get involved in". But again, why did you get into this work? What is the passion that drove you here? Doing some of the things I talked about as far as the body — getting the cortisol levels down, being able to have a good social interaction. Often, we get burnt out because we don't have anything to distract us, it becomes our whole life. Finding ways to be distracted when I'm home and not stay at work even when I'm at home. Trying to keep that feeling going on so I don't get bored.
Matthew Kail: PGPD is a new affiliate of the Maryland ICAC so I think it would interesting from Duane's perspective. They're just a few months into our program to have them involved with the program. They're not quite there yet but once they do get involved with this program, they give it a baseline and Duane can look at the progress over the next couple of years to see how it changes or affects people. I think that would be an interesting study.
Audience Question: Do you have any information about the cost factor per person for your program in Maryland?
Matthew Kail: The cost factor without getting too specific, I'd say, could run anywhere between you have a conference call factor, sessions calls factor. Probably around the 25,000 USD per year mark for the entire program.
Audience Question: Are there any time limits or restrictions placed on employment positions due to the trauma exposure and are recommended time perimeters in place there in Maryland?
Matthew Kail: As far as the troopers assigned to my unit, I don't have a rotational policy. It's basically as Duane talked about, if you feel like that you want to transfer, that's completely up to the trooper. But there is no mandatory rotational policy.
Audience Question: How did you get your personnel to admit and acknowledge that trauma is real, and it can impact them personally?
Duane Bowers: I really thought that there would be a barrier and I would need to work hard to establish trust. But people were really glad to have a place to come to to be able to get some coping mechanism. I had very little resistance when we started. Maybe because we started with a conference where I did an educational presentation, a couple hours long about what happens to your body and your brain. Very few resisters as far as the program. People came in and were really open to talk about what was stressing them both personally and professionally. The buy-in individually was surprising for my perspective.
Matthew Kail: I think the conference was the best thing to kick it off. Let people know who Duane was, to see what he was about, what he was offering, a lot of background, a lot of credibility to him. It goes about just getting the buy-in and selling it and it takes from the leadership standpoint, being in 110%, taking part in caring for yourself, being a proponent of it. It's important and I think it's helped the employees and I definitely would encourage any entity out there whether it is an ICAC. If you feel like you need a program like this to definitely explore it. It's going to take effort but if it's something you're really serious about, you'd put the effort into it because it will be worthwhile.
Click here to see a recording of "Creating a Culture of Organizational Wellness."