Module 9: Self-care

1. Importance of self-care
2. Stress, burnout, and vicarious trauma
3. Risk factors for burnout and vicarious trauma
4. Managing stress and building resilience
5. General strategies on how to improve self-care



Welcome to Module 9 on “Self-care”. Working with victims of domestic violence poses significant challenges for frontline responders from the police, and from the health, social and legal sector, often leading to stress, tension, and emotional strain that can potentially result in burnout or trauma if not effectively managed. Thus, it is important to raise awareness of these challenges and develop strategies to address them. Prioritising professionals’ own well-being is as important as taking care of the well-being of victims. Module 9 highlights the risks associated with burnout and vicarious trauma. It explores the interpersonal and organisational boundaries when working with victims of domestic violence, and provides practical coping strategies, empowering professionals to navigate difficult situations while ensuring their self-care remains a priority.

Learning objectives

+ Understand the importance of self-care

+ Understand why frontline responders working with victims of domestic violence face high risks of burnout and vicarious trauma

+ Get familiar with risk factors for burnout and vicarious trauma in the context of domestic violence

+ Learn how to recognise the signs and symptoms of stress, burnout, and vicarious trauma

+ Learn about the steps you can take to protect your (mental) health and how to prioritise your wellbeing when working with victims of domestic violence

1. Importance of self-care

Working with people who have experienced domestic violence can be extremely mentally challenging. It is quite normal to experience a range of feelings, both positive and negative when working with victims of domestic violence. Being aware of the potential impact on your own wellbeing and taking steps to minimise the negative impacts are important strategies of self-care.

Self-care can be defined as the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health worker.1

Frontline responders play an important role in providing emotional support to victims, improving their safety, and providing legal assistance, but they routinely encounter unpredictable and complex situations and confront a range of challenges while providing support to victims.2

Victims of domestic violence very often stay in abusive relationships, seemingly not allowing intervention for various reasons, including a lack of support. This can be exhausting, frustrating, and difficult to understand. Though professionals may feel frustration, they may be their first and only point of contact.3

  • Realise early on that the victim may never leave the abuser.
  • Recognise that leaving is a process, not an event – the timeline from the beginning of abuse to the point of leaving may take decades.
  • Get to know as much as you can about how domestic violence is being addressed at a local level. At the bare minimum, you should know the domestic violence support services in your area, so that you can provide accurate information for victims.
  • Do not feel that you have to know everything that there is to know about domestic violence. Listening and communicating support and active contact details for an external support agency is better than not talking about it at all.
  • Be aware of your own safety needs. Should a violent incident occur, arrange a staff debriefing session. Violence affects everybody differently.
  • Have local contact details for domestic violence support available to all staff members.
  • Look after yourself. Working with the effects of domestic violence professionally can bring personal issues to the surface, particularly if you are experiencing or have experienced abuse yourself.

2. Stress, burnout, and vicarious trauma

Domestic violence is not only a problem for those directly affected but can also pose significant challenges for professionals. Problems, frustrations, and barriers can result in stress, or even burnout, and in some cases in vicarious trauma if not effectively managed. It is important for professionals to be aware of the risks and recognise the signs.


Definition of stress

Stress can be defined as a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation.4,5

Stress can be “acute” or “chronic”6:

  • Acute stress happens within a few minutes to a few hours of an event. It lasts for a short period of time, usually less than a few weeks, and is very intense. It can happen after an upsetting or unexpected event. For example, this could be a sudden bereavement, assault, or natural disaster.
  • Chronic stress lasts for a long period of time or keeps coming back. You might experience this if you are under lots of pressure a lot of the time. You might also feel chronic stress if your day-to-day life is difficult, for example if you are a carer or if you live in poverty or if you are a victim of experience domestic violence.

Stress and our body

Stress is our body’s response to pressure. Many different situations or life events can cause stress. It is often triggered when we experience something new or unexpected that threatens our sense of self or when we feel we have little control over a situation. We all deal with stress differently. Our ability to cope can depend on our genetics, early life events, personality, and social and economic circumstances. When we encounter stress, our body produces stress hormones that trigger a fight or flight response and activate our immune system. This helps us respond quickly to dangerous situations. Sometimes, this stress response can be helpful. It can help us push through fear or pain so we can run a marathon or deliver a speech, for example. Our stress hormones usually return to normal quickly once the stressful event is over, and there will not be any lasting effects. However, too much stress can cause adverse effects. It can leave us in a permanent stage of fight or flight, leaving us overwhelmed or unable to cope. Long term, this can affect our physical and mental health.

The following video shows how stress affects our body:

Learn more about how stress affects the brain in particular in the following video:

Signs and symptoms of stress

When a person has long-term (chronic) stress, continued activation of the stress response causes wear and tear on the body. Physical, emotional, and behavioural symptoms develop. Our body’s autonomic nervous system plays an important role in some of those symptoms as it controls our heart rate, breathing, vision changes and more.

Physical symptoms of stress include7:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Panic attacks
  • Blurred eyesight or sore eyes
  • Sleep problems
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches and headaches
  • Chest pains and high blood pressure
  • Indigestion or heartburn
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Feeling sick, dizzy or fainting
  • Sudden weight gain or weight loss
  • Developing rashes or itchy skin
  • Sweating
  • Changes to your period or menstrual cycle
  • Existing physical health problems getting worse

If we experience high levels of stress, these symptoms can get worse. This can also happen if we experience stress for a long period of time.

The following video explains what happens to our body and brain when we skip sleep:

Stress can lead to emotional and mental symptoms.8 If you are stressed, you might feel:

  • Irritable, angry, impatient or wound up
  • Over-burdened or overwhelmed
  • Anxious, nervous or afraid
  • Like your thoughts are racing and you cannot switch off
  • Unable to enjoy yourself
  • Depressed
  • Uninterested in life
  • Like you have lost your sense of humour
  • A sense of dread
  • Worried or tense
  • Neglected or lonely
  • Existing mental health problems getting worse

Some people who go through severe stress may experience suicidal feelings. This can be very distressing.

Often, people with chronic stress try to manage it with unhealthy behaviours.9 If you feel stressed, it might make you:

  • Find it hard to make decisions
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Unable to remember things, or make your memory feel slower than usual
  • Constantly worry or have feelings of dread
  • Snap at people
  • Bite your nails
  • Pick at or itch your skin
  • Grind your teeth or clench your jaw
  • Experience sexual problems, such as losing interest in sex or being unable to enjoy sex
  • Eat too much or too little
  • Smoke, use recreational drugs or drink alcohol more than you usually would
  • Restless, like you cannot sit still
  • Cry or feel tearful
  • Spend or shop too much
  • Not exercise as much as you usually would, or exercise too much
  • Withdraw from people around you

The following video explores the stages of how our memory stores information and how short-term stress impacts this process:

Causes of stress

Many things can cause stress. You might feel stressed because of one big event or situation in your life, or it might be a build-up of lots of smaller things. You can have stress from good challenges as well as bad ones. You may experience stress if you:

  • Feel under lots of pressure
  • Face big changes in your life
  • Are worried about something
  • Do not have much or any control over the outcome of a situation
  • Have responsibilities that you find overwhelming
  • Do not have enough work, activities or change in your life
  • Experience discrimination, hate or abuse
  • Are going through a period of uncertainty

How stressed you feel in different situations may depend on factors on various levels like10:

  • How comfortable or frustrated you feel in certain types of situations, or simply uncertainty about how to act in a particular situation (personal level)
  • What else you are going through as well as your past experiences, and how situations confront you with your own biography (personal level)
  • The amount of support you have from your colleagues and other people (interpersonal level)
  • The resources you have available to you, such as time (workplace level)
  • If clear rules, structures, or guidelines exist on how to deal with different situations (organisational level)

Some situations that do not bother you at all might cause someone else a lot of stress. This is because we are all influenced by different experiences. We also have different levels of support and ways of coping. Certain events might also make you feel stressed sometimes, but not every time.

The following illustration shows the progression of a stress curve from too little stress to burnout:

Callidu. 2024. Stress Curve.

Stress can occur in different areas of our lives.11 These may include:

Some of these situations are often thought of as happy events, but they can still feel very stressful.


Definition of burnout

The term “burnout” was coined in 1974 by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. He used it to describe the consequences of severe stress and high ideals in “helping” professions. Doctors and nurses, for example, who sacrifice themselves for others, would often end up being “burned out” – exhausted, listless, and unable to cope.12

The ICD-11 of the World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as an occupational phenomenon resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.13 It is classified as a mismatch between the challenges of work and a person’s mental and physical resources, but is not recognised as a standalone medical condition.

Signs and symptoms of burnout

There are three main areas of symptoms that are considered to be signs of burnout14:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion: People affected feel drained and emotionally exhausted, unable to cope, tired and down, and do not have enough energy. Physical symptoms include things like pain and gastrointestinal (stomach or bowel) problems.
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job: People who have burnout find their jobs increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may start being cynical about their working conditions and their colleagues. At the same time, they may increasingly distance themselves emotionally, and start feeling numb about their work.
  • Reduced professional efficacy: Burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work, at home or when caring for family members. People with burnout are very negative about their tasks, find it hard to concentrate, are listless and lack creativity.

Diagnosis of burnout

In 1981, Maslach and Jackson developed the first widely used instrument for assessing burnout, the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI). It remains by far the most commonly used instrument to assess the condition. The MBI operationalises burnout as a three-dimensional syndrome consisting of emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation (an unfeeling and impersonal response toward recipients of one’s service, care, treatment, or instruction), and reduced personal accomplishment.15

The MBI originally focused on social professionals (e.g., teachers, social workers). Since that time, the MBI has been used for a wider variety of workers (e.g., health professionals). The instrument or its variants are now employed with many other professions.

Learn more about burnout in the following video:

Vicarious trauma

Definition of vicarious trauma

Vicarious trauma is the effect of being exposed to someone else’s trauma — trauma that you have not personally experienced, but you have learned about from others. The Vicarious Trauma Institute defines vicarious trauma as the “indirect exposure to trauma through a first-hand account or narrative of a traumatic event”.

Vicarious trauma is a term typically used when talking about clinicians, such as therapists, social workers, and other professionals. Anyone can also experience stress when hearing about a loved one’s trauma. That stress is very valid and natural, and sometimes it can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other mental health difficulties, like depression and anxiety.16

Vicarious trauma is also known by a handful of other names, including:

  • Secondary traumatisation
  • Secondary trauma
  • Second-hand trauma
  • Secondary traumatic stress

Vicarious trauma is not the same as PTSD, which refers to someone experiencing or witnessing trauma directly. While vicarious trauma and PTSD are not the same, the symptoms of PTSD and vicarious trauma can be quite similar.

Learn more about the science behind post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), its symptoms and how the brain reacts to trauma:

Signs and symptoms of vicarious trauma

Symptoms of vicarious trauma can be experienced physically, emotionally, and behaviourally.17 According to a 2019 review, the symptoms of vicarious trauma can include:

  • Unwelcome thoughts of client-induced imagery
  • Nightmares
  • Missing work
  • Social withdrawal
  • Avoiding traumatic disclosures from clients, leading to subpar clinical services
  • Negative coping skills, both personally and professionally
  • Hyperarousal to your safety and the safety of loved ones
  • Avoiding physical intimacy
  • Increasingly pessimistic worldview
  • Loss of work-related motivation
  • Distancing from spiritual beliefs
  • Reduced longevity in the field
  • Stress-related medical conditions

Vicarious trauma may also be linked with burnout.

Causes of vicarious trauma

Vicarious trauma can happen to people who engage with trauma survivors or witness traumatic events, especially on a repetitive basis.18

For this reason, vicarious trauma is common among professionals known for helping others, like therapists, social workers, police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and doctors.

Stress, trauma, and work: How to look after yourself

What is vicarious or work-induced trauma? This video introduces vicarious trauma and its possible effects on work and personal life. It also offers some techniques for addressing work-induced stress and trauma.

The following checklist contains more signs to be aware of.19 The things on the list do not necessarily mean that you are suffering from burnout or vicarious trauma. An answer of “yes” to any of the questions can alert you to the need to speak to someone.

Checklist for burnout and vicarious trauma
  • Are your relationships with close friends, family, children, or partners changing for the worse?
  • Are you finding yourself irritable, anxious, agitated or “snapping” more frequently than usual?
  • Is your work performance dropping or are you making mistakes?
  • Are you avoiding, or getting anxious about engaging with work, clients, or patients?
  • Do you notice mood swings or feel your moods are sometimes out of your control?
  • Are you feeling flat, sad, lacking energy, overtired for no reason, or as though you are “spacing out” from things around you when you are stressed?
  • Are you getting run down or catching more colds or infections than usual?
  • Do you feel unsafe or overly anxious about your safety?
  • Are you self-soothing in ways that might be numbing or can cause you increased stress later, such as mindless eating, alcohol or substance use, or smoking?
  • Do you feel you have lost hope, or that there is little “goodness” in humanity?
  • Do you have nightmares, poor sleep, intrusive thoughts, or images that are upsetting?
  • Check your breathing throughout the day — is it more often than not above 15 breaths per minute? Or below seven? Is this linked to thinking about work, or other stress triggers?

3. Risk factors for burnout and vicarious trauma

There are a number of factors that can increase the risk of burnout and vicarious trauma in the context of domestic violence. Some of them are personal, while others relate to the situation or work setting.20

Personal factors include:

  • Personality and coping styles (e.g., people who tend to avoid difficult emotions or situations or tend to see problems as overwhelming and unfixable)
  • Personal history (e.g., experience of dealing with a situation similar to one’s own (past) situation, identification with those affected)
  • Current life circumstances (e.g., stresses in other aspects of life can add to the overall stress someone is experiencing, periods of personal illness)
  • Social support (e.g., people who enjoy a strong social network tend to be more resilient to stress than people who are socially isolated)
  • Work style (e.g., having unrealistic expectations of performance, difficulty in setting boundaries between work and other aspects of life, lack of balance between personal and work time)
  • Spiritual resources (e.g., some people find connection with a higher source of meaning can improve their resilience to stressful situations)

Workplace factors include:

  • Working over a long period of time in the field (i.e., having repeated exposure to the traumatic stories of victims over time)
  • Level of responsibility (e.g., feeling unable or insufficiently resourced to really help, being overburdened with complex cases)
  • Inadequate supervision, training, and support structures (e.g., lack of opportunities to speak out, inability to influence decisions, inadequate time off, lack of supportive workplace culture, lack of knowledge regarding the potential for vicarious trauma)
  • Inadequate time to debrief
  • Challenging work conditions (e.g., remote locations, restricted access to recreation, exercise, or social supports, frequent travel, long hours)
  • Competing demands (e.g., from budgets, victims, funders, and own family)

4. Managing stress and building resilience

Being prepared for periods of stress can make it easier to get through them and knowing how to manage our wellbeing can help us recover after a stressful event. Resilience refers to our ability to manage stress. It is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress, such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences (American Psychological Association).

There are things we can try to build our resilience against stress. But there are also factors that might make it harder to be resilient, such as experiencing discrimination or lacking support.21

Barriers to resilience

The terms “resilience” and “managing stress” can mean different things to different people. We might understand them differently because our experiences shape how we feel stress, and how easily we can respond to it. Some people may think that our response to stress is something that we can all easily control, but this is not true. There are some causes of stress that are beyond our control and some ways of managing stress and building resilience are not always available to us. This makes dealing with stress very personal. Some experiences that can make it more difficult include22:

  • Having a long-term physical health condition
  • Having a mental health problem
  • Experiencing discrimination and hate, including racism, homophobia, biphobia or transphobia
  • Living far away from family or friends, or having difficult relationships with them
  • Experiencing loneliness
  • Experiencing poverty and money worries, including debt or problems with benefits
  • Living in an area with poor access to services like healthcare, public transport and green spaces
  • Being a single parent
  • Being a carer
  • Having poor quality housing
  • Lacking safety and protection, such as living in areas with poor policing

It is easier to develop resilience if we do not face these barriers, but many of these things are difficult or impossible to change.

5. General strategies on how to improve self-care

Tips for maintaining and managing wellbeing at work23
  • Actively engage in regular supervision and collective reflective practice.
  • Reach out to someone. This could be your supervisor, a trusted friend or colleague, a counsellor or another support person.
  • Find a way to escape physically or mentally including rest, reading, days off, holidays, walks, seeing friends, having fun, and doing things that make you laugh, playing with children and pets, and creative activities.
  • Take your scheduled workday breaks and annual leave.
  • Evaluate your workspace to ensure it is conducive to wellbeing.
  • Be kind and supportive to your colleagues and celebrate achievements.
  • Practice self-compassion. In bearing witness to stories of abuse and violence, it is good to remember that an emotional response is also a human one. While it is important to maintain professional composure with victims, emotional responses related to abuse and violence are natural and appropriate. Staying connected with how you feel and having self-compassion will help you to be resilient and sustain your work.

The following strategies are recommended to improve self-care at work.24

You can use these specific strategies to improve your self-care.25

Ask for help if you need it

Asking for support can not only help protect your own emotional wellbeing, but it can also mean you are happier and more effective at work.

One of the biggest causes of vicarious trauma is how much time is spent with traumatised people. How work is divided among staff within an organisation is very important.

For more information on how organisations can better support staff, see “What managers and organisations can do”, below.

Take a break

There are many ways to take a break. What you do is not important as long as it gives you a chance to relax and recharge.

  • Take time to escape (physically or mentally, films, books, holidays)
  • Have rest time (down time with no specific goal or time limit)
  • Make the most of opportunities to enjoy yourself (develop positive emotions, do things that make you laugh or smile, take part in creative activities, play with children)
Have realistic expectations

When you are doing challenging work or supporting people who need a lot from you, it is easy to take on too much. Remember you are only human, try to keep things in perspective.

  • Be aware of the expectations you place on yourself – do they need to be more realistic?
  • Accept that you are likely to be affected to a degree by doing demanding work
  • Focus on things that are within your control
  • Actively problem-solve difficult issues
  • Take regular breaks (including each day at work, as well as longer breaks for holidays)
  • Try to understand yourself and your responses to stressful situation
Up-skill and seek support

Being confident in your skills and working in a cooperative, supportive workplace are keys to doing your job well. Having the rights skills for the job also helps manage stress. There are plenty of ways to improve your skills that do not require formal training.

  • Read about or do training in vicarious trauma
  • Ask for support from colleagues
  • Request regular professional supervision
  • Seek variety at work, try different tasks
  • Develop professional networks and relationships
  • Take this information to your manager or supervisor
Find balance and meaning

It is important to keep a balance in your life and focus on the value of the work that you do. Keeping things in perspective can help make you more resilient and satisfied in both your work and personal life. These simple actions can have a big impact on the way you feel.

  • Keep a healthy balance of work and life, as well as balancing the types of tasks you do at work
  • Remember the importance and value of the work you do
  • Be mindful and appreciate the little things (for example a warm day, good coffee, a hug)
  • Mark important events, celebrate and grieve with rituals or traditions
  • Stay connected with loved ones
  • Find small ways to refresh and ground yourself throughout the workday
  • Focus on doing your best (instead of only specific goals that ‘must’ be completed)
  • Recognise and challenge any cynical beliefs that come up
  • Seek out strengths and successes (in yourself, as well as others and the work you do)
  • Consider activities to encourage personal growth (for example creative activities, journaling, mindfulness)
  • Find what renews you spiritually and connects you to greater meaning (nature, religious belief, community, and family) and do these things regularly
  • Try a gratitude journal – at the end of each day write down three things you are grateful for, or three things that went well that day and why they matter
What managers and organisations can do

Managing the risk of burnout and vicarious trauma is an important part of workplace health and safety within an organisation. There are practical and important things that managers can do to support the wellbeing of their staff.26

Two of the most important factors that can prevent burnout and vicarious trauma are:

  • How work is allocated
  • The support professionals receive

Management support strategies can include:

  • Regular supervision and debriefing
  • Rostering or alternated appointment systems, which are designed to minimise constant exposure to stressful environments
  • Work allocation changes, such as providing duties that are not directly connected to the work with victims
  • Professional development opportunities such as workshops on domestic violence, burnout, and vicarious trauma
  • Providing professional development pathways or study time – this can help reduce the effects of vicarious trauma, and can also help professionals to feel that their work and skills are valued
  • Enhanced collaborative practice and inter-agency case management, so that professionals do not feel they are the only one working with, or responsible for, a victim’s or family’s safety
  • Encouragement of self-care, down-time, lunch breaks and other re-fuelling practices

Organisations should have policies and procedures in place to: 

  • Support professionals’ safety in everyday practice
  • Document and debrief reportable and critical incidents
  • Address concerns about misconduct, bullying and service quality

Given the high prevalence of domestic violence across the European Union, it is inevitable that the workplace includes people with their own past or current lived experiences of domestic violence. Enabling sustainability requires dedicated workplace policies that recognise this reality and include confidential support strategies.

Excursus: Wellbeing during times of crises

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted existing structural inequalities throughout Europe, heightening the risks and vulnerabilities associated with domestic violence and revealing the limitations and obstacles within the support system. It has led to a widespread shift to remote services for professionals working with victims of domestic violence, often for the first time, and has posed challenges in maintaining the mental health and well-being of these professionals in remote settings.

Find more information about domestic violence in times of disasters in Module 7.

What are managers’ responsibilities during times of emergency and crisis?

  • Managers have a responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of all professionals, both physically and mentally.
  • Managers and supervisors must take steps to protect the mental health of professionals, especially those working remotely or from home.
  • Managers should develop and implement strategies to help professionals create safe and suitable remote work environments, promote well-being, and offer support if mental health issues arise during emergencies and crises.

Organisations can take the following actions to improve crisis preparedness, response, and recovery, as well as to mitigate work-related stress, burnout, and other mental health problems during such times.27

Set up safe remote workspaces in professionals’ homes
  • Discuss with staff the challenges of working remotely, such as the need for sensitive conversations, potential impact on shared living spaces, feelings of isolation, and stress.
  • Ensure staff have the necessary tools and equipment for remote work, including internet access, computers, software, phones, ergonomic furniture, etc.
  • Conduct meetings to assess and provide equipment for remote work and develop guidelines for staff to access tools and technology.
  • Maintain confidentiality and privacy of client data by implementing secure storage systems for remote work settings.
Monitor and manage professionals’ wellbeing
  • Monitor and manage staff well-being during crises, including regularly checking in with professionals, providing dedicated supervision sessions, facilitating peer support, and encouraging breaks from work.
  • Supervising practice during emergencies involves focusing on the personal impact of domestic violence work, considering alternative supervision methods, discussing potential trauma spills in shared homes, and extending mental health services to others in shared homes.
  • Maintaining social connections is essential by transitioning in-person rituals to virtual versions, scheduling regular team catch-ups via online platforms.
  • Adaptive case allocation and management prioritise professionals’ well-being, considering workload, case complexity, and staff availability, and involves regular monitoring and review of caseloads and workloads.
  • Staff recruitment during crises requires careful consideration, evaluating previous experience, qualifications, and cultural knowledge before making decisions about recruitment and induction of new staff.
  • Communication is crucial during crises, and organisations should develop internal and external communication plans to address the challenges faced during emergencies.
  • Internal communication plans should establish clear channels for conveying decisions related to case prioritisation and ensure that staff mental health and well-being are prioritised in all communications.
  • External communication plans should outline channels for communicating with the public, providing clear and reassuring messages about service changes and availability during the crisis.
  • Organisations must consider the impact of service alterations on both clients and staff, providing consistent information through central communication channels and appointing public information spokespeople to coordinate communication with the public, media, and government.
Build a resilient domestic violence workforce
  • Prioritise the health and safety of professionals during emergencies and crises by integrating mental health and well-being strategies into crisis response and recovery plans.
  • Focus on building resilience in the workforce through systematic planning, implementation, and monitoring of mental health strategies during emergencies.
  • As organisations transition from crisis response to recovery, emphasise workforce resilience and agility to adapt to future crises.
  • Reflect on past experiences to identify strengths, gaps, and areas for improvement in crisis response, involving input from all levels of the organisation to inform future strategies.

Questions & Answers: Self-care28

What should I do if victims refuse help, and I cannot take action?
  • Accept their wishes.
  • Wait for other opportunities, try again later.
  • If you cannot find a solution, brainstorm with colleagues (maintain confidentiality).
What should I do if there is not enough information about the violent situation?
  • Seek information and identify risk factors before taking action.
  • Make a plan for your approach.
  • Ensure the atmosphere is conducive.
  • Share information and ideas to get responses.
What should I do in cases of danger?
  • Consider carefully whether it may be necessary to call the police.
  • Inform colleagues and ask for their support.
  • If there is immediate danger, call the police immediately.
  • In the case of verbal aggression, do not call the police immediately. In cases of physical aggression and when the victim is in danger of life, call the police immediately, otherwise you may encounter problems.
  • If there is no immediate danger, try to talk to the victim.
How can I cooperate with and learn from colleagues?
  • Be open to new suggestions.
  • Use humour.
  • Try to say, “I did my best. If things are going badly with the victim, it’s not my fault. I’ve done everything I could. I will now leave and take some distance.”
  • Good meetings with and support from your colleagues can be very fruitful and empowering in cases of violence.
What should I do if I feel that colleagues and/or the immediate supervisor are not supporting me?
  • Try to find the right way and tone to say what you want to say.
  • Find a way to talk about your frustration and to criticise the behaviour of your colleagues, but do not make it too personal.
What should I do if I feel tension and negative stress?
  • Try to be attentive to “alarm signals”, such as tension in the neck and shoulder area, fatigue, restlessness, sleep problems, nervousness, etc.
  • Try to solve the problems on different levels (personal, interpersonal, at the workplace, in the organisation).
What should I do if I bring the problems home?
  • Talk to friends, but do not share personal data.
  • Relax, take long walks, have a warm bath.
  • Take deep breaths.
What should I do if I do not have enough time?
  • Ask colleagues for support.
  • Talk to your supervisor about reorganising your tasks.
  • Propose a team meeting to discuss the issues.
  • Try to reorganise yourself.
  • Make a commitment to take time for yourself and for your family and friends.

Case study: Self-care in the police when dealing with cases of domestic violence

Tom is an experienced police officer who regularly deals with cases of domestic violence. He has developed a tough exterior to cope with the demands of his job and has learned to suppress his own emotions. He sees himself as a strong protector who must maintain control over his environment.

At work, Tom focuses on keeping situations under control and maintaining calm. However, he cannot prevent the constant exposure to violence and suffering from affecting his emotional well-being. He tends to suppress his feelings and rarely talks about the stresses of his job.

Tasks for reflection

(1) What challenges does Tom experience in practicing self-care in his role as a police officer working with victims of domestic violence?

(2) Why might frontline responders like Tom struggle to engage in self-care practices?

(3) What impacts can neglecting one´s self-care have on the performance and well-being of a frontline responder?

(4) What steps could Tom take to improve his self-care and accept support?

(5) How could the work environment be improved to help frontline responders like Tom enhance their self-care?

(6) What resources and support mechanisms could be helpful for frontline responders in similar situations to improve their self-care?


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  2. Ferreira, E., Figueiredo, A. S., and Santos, A. 2023. Understanding the Emotional Impact and Coping Strategies of Professionals Working with Domestic Violence Victims. Social Sciences 12(9), 525. ↩︎
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