Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Promoting EFA for Adults

Someone asked me about emotional first aid for adults, so here are some ideas about increasing access to that ...

Basic EFA is something most people can and should learn. Of course, not everyone will be good at, because all skills have people who suck at them, but most people can do okay at it. This includes things like:
* Simple techniques such as active listening, mirroring, and 3-part messages.
* When someone is upset, ask how you can help, if they would like to talk about it, or if taking a break for a few minutes might make them feel better.
* Stuff not to do because it makes things worse; for instance, avoid platitudes or use them only with great care. "It gets better" doesn't help a person who is hurting now.

More involved EFA is appropriate for people who work in stressful situations -- first responders, for example, should have someone who can take care of psychological injuries in an emergency. Just as you should not leave someone bleeding out in the street, you should not leave someone wailing their heart out in a corner. It's also good for any large group, such as an extended family, to have someone skilled in handling an emotional crisis.

EFA is just as essential for adults as for children. Anyone can have a meltdown if stress exceeds their coping skills. Everyone needs help sometimes; adults just need it less often, on average, because their coping skills tend to be higher and thus can compensate for most challenges. If your coworker breaks down crying at work because a relative is in the hospital, it's appropriate to say something like, "You sound pretty upset. Here's a tissue. How about we step outside for a few minutes?" This shows compassion, it gets the upset person out of everyone else's hair, and makes it easier for them to vent and then calm down. This is easier, of course, if the workplace has a policy about emotional strain and access to a quiet room or back yard where people can go to relax when they start to get wound up, rather than grimly clinging to their desk until total meltdown occurs.

Mental care in America is very patchy. There's almost no help for any kind of mental issue until it becomes an emergency, and by that time -- like many emergencies -- some or all of the damage is often permanent. >_< We need more emotional first aid before things get that bad. A big reason America's mental health is a wreck is because the clinical quality is still approximately at the "virtuous pus" stage where it used to be considered important to wait for infection to set in before removing foreign objects from a wound.

EFA is available in some high-stress locations and/or luxurious ones. Some courts have added therapy animals, often for children but occasionally also for adults, to lower stress because it makes other people's jobs easier. Some large corporations have soothers such as massage therapists or yoga teachers to reduce health bills from stress-related problems. First responders often have an in-house counselor just because they take so many hits, but the culture is so bait-and-switch that it makes people resistant to seek help because the risk outweighs the benefits.

Among coworkers, EFA offers an area of possible growth:

1) Identify who is already doing the work at your location.

2) Check their skills. Often they would benefit from more thorough education, and there are actually some programs that teach EFA. Short of that, several excellent books exist.

3) Make a pitch to turn it official, just as many places have someone with physical first aid skills. You can add EFA to anyone's job description as an adjunct or as cross-training. People like resume perks. This also offers a place to set standard parameters, like taking a 15-to-30-minute break to put someone back together, just as you would if a coworker scalded their hand at the coffee machine. "If Jane needs to step out to give EFA (which is a higher priority than her usual deskwork) then Bob will cover her phone/other important tasks until she returns."

When making this kind of pitch, draw inspiration from the advantages of cross-training in general. Highlight the benefit to the employer first (calmer workplace, more attractive for employee retention, save money on health costs) and then the employee (resume development, new life skills, better relationships). People may not care about mental health, but they usually care about saving money and not having to stand around awkwardly ignoring the crying coworker.

EFA is a natural outgrowth of other things that employers often want or do. If your workplace does those other things, present it in that light. If they complain about the rising rate of mental claims, burnout, etc. then frame EFA as prevention. If they constantly push people to do self-care, present EFA as a necessary support for that. In any case, use metaphors from physical first aid to illustrate the situation. You would not ignore it if someone had a physical injury, therefore you should not ignore it if someone has an emotional injury, because the costs of untreated injuries are similar in both categories.

Here is a potential plan for promoting EFA development at work:

* Build up your own EFA skills. There are assorted books and programs for this.

Johnson's Emotional First Aid is my go-to handbook, suitable for children or adults.

Emotional First Aid is widely acclaimed.

Some training programs include:

The Annex Project Emotional First Aid

Psychological First Aid Online

Mental Health First Aid

* Encourage coworkers to pursue EFA education too. For the more nurturing ones, pitch it as a natural outgrowth of their existing interests. For those with lower emotional intelligence, pitch it as a way to reduce the number of times they will stand around awkwardly wishing they knew what to do.

* Gather EFA supplies and stock them at work. Ideally, try to find a corner of the breakroom or other location where you can put such things as a poster of coping skills, a fuzzy blanket, a basket of office toys, and a few books on EFA or soothing topics. If you work in a large facility then you can advocate for a quiet room as a means of reducing stress and stress-caused incidents which could cost the facility money or prestige. It doesn't have to be big; a roomy closet or small office that nobody likes is often plenty.

* Watch for opportunities to slip in some EFA programming as it overlaps with other stated goals. Does your workplace bug people to exercise more? Suggest a tai chi or yoga class, which help people relax. Is there a requirement for ongoing education? Look for EFA programs aimed at your field -- there are plenty of those for teachers and other people working with children -- and propose them as options.

* Offer EFA to your coworkers when it looks like they could use some. They're likely to remember the techniques, and may use them for others later.

* Listen for the bitching! People often complain about things they don't know how to fix or at least compensate for. They might say things like, "I feel so overwhelmed, I can't get a moment's peace." Suggest a few techniques for calm and relaxation. If they say, "I hate it when she cries, I don't know what to do with a crying woman," offer ideas for active listening and emotional comfort.

* Be careful with this one, because adults can get hinky about it, but modeling and encouragement can still work. With your students, it looks like, "Tommy is sad because he lost his truck. Let's go help him look for it so he will feel better." With your coworkers it might be, "Thomas seems really blue today. I heard him mention that his wife lost her job. Let's go talk to him and maybe invite them out to dinner."

I hope this helps.
Tags: family skills, how to, life lessons, safety
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