I’ve hit my emotional limit
Mar 07, 2011
As a restorative conferencing facilitator, I often receive the brunt of a lot of strong emotions. This happens most when I’m making first contacts with individuals or in the preconference interviews. I can’t count the number of times I’ve called a victim to introduce the programme to receive a twenty minute monologue covering everything from the pain of the crime to their frustrations with the criminal justice systems to questions about how to move ahead.
These emotions are very real and the person expressing them needs to be able to do that. Just recently, I was the recipient of such emotion from the daughter of a crime victim. At one point she apologised for dumping her anger and frustration on me as I was only doing my job. I quickly responded that it was okay, that was part of my job. And, quite frankly, it is a part of the work. Even in what might seem to us to be “minor” crimes; we can encounter very strong emotions from those we are serving. This makes facilitator self-care very important.
In relating the intensity of a recent conversation with a victim to a colleague, I was asked about the support I receive for dealing with how I am inevitably affected by such emotions. He reminded me that no matter how understanding I am about the emotions I am still affected by them. I know it’s true but the reminder is useful from time to time. There are some strategies that I find helpful (although I may need to develop more discipline in pursuing them).
I always find it useful to debrief with another facilitator or individual working in the programme. I can share the things that I’ve encountered and release some of the emotion that I may have absorbed. At the same time, I can share any frustrations or concerns that I have with the case. I always appreciate the insights and reality checks that such debriefing sessions can provide.
My faith is an important part of who I am and how I see the world. When I’m faced with the raw pain of many victims, I can be overwhelmed by them. Prayer is another way I have of dealing with or processing through those feelings. I am able to share my concerns, seek wisdom, and even care for my clients through my prayers.
While I can’t share the specifics of cases, I can share some of the personal impact of my work as a facilitator with friends. This may be the friend who takes an afternoon walk with me, often conducting “vent therapy,” or it might be someone who is willing to listen to the experience without demanding more information or seeking to fix the situation. I also count on the prayers and support of these friends in helping me prepare to work with my clients.
Identifying my limits
It’s also important for me to know when to call it a day. Recently, I facilitated a conference that turned out to be more emotional than I had anticipated. Then I conducted a pre-conference interview with the father of a young man who had been killed in a traffic accident. I followed this with a telephone conversation with a woman whose elderly mother had been the victim of financial crimes by the caretaker hired to see to her needs. Needless to say, all of these conversations were difficult. I received a good bit of anger and pain both from the consequences of their victimisation and their disappointing experiences with the criminal justice system.
After the phone call, I looked at the fourth file that I was supposed to work on that day. I needed to talk to a mother whose son had died in an accident. I simply looked at the programme coordinator and said, “I’ve hit my emotional limit for the day.” She agreed and we placed the file on my agenda for the next time I was scheduled to be in the office.
These are a few things I’ve tried. How do you do self-care? How do you as a facilitator maintain emotional and mental health in working with people who have experienced such pain?