Emotion Management with Self and Other

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Emotion Management with Self and Other

December in the northern hemisphere comes with cold temperatures, hot drinks, dark afternoons, sparkling lights, and as much potential for joy as for hardship. We give ourselves and those around us a very big gift if we make space for all of it.

You can, of course, move on with your day, but if you would like to read a little about emotion management and what that has to do with Sanctuary, stay with me.

Last time we went over the Safety part of the S.E.L.F. framework. Now we’re going to address Emotion Management because, in order for Sanctuary to be successful anywhere, we must all regularly practice recognizing and managing feelings “in non-harmful ways.” This means our feelings and those of our colleagues and patients (and family and friends and everyone).

This is where Sanctuary really starts heating up. Everyone can get on board with safety, but FEELINGS?!? Yes, feelings. If you are a human being, you have feelings, and emotions. They are vital pieces of information, yet all too often in professional settings, we are taught to suppress, ignore, and avoid them. In doing this, we are working against our very biology and missing key data about ourselves and others.

Health care education (aside from maybe social work and other behavioral health tracks) does a very poor job of supporting the emotional growth of health care professionals. This is a disservice to professionals and patients alike, as it results in professionals being unable to appropriately and supportively deal with patients who need emotional support and with patients feeling emotionally neglected by the very people they’ve come to for help. Such patients will likely stop coming in or come less often and not be forthcoming with information, assuming that the clinician only wants to know certain things. This has a wide variety of interpersonal variability, of course, but all of us have experienced this in one way or another.

This can look like:

  • Freezing up or getting irritated, frustrated or angry when someone is emotional;
  • Quickly changing topics and/or physically leaving the room when emotions flare, and
  • Automatically moving to match emotional energy by getting equally worked up as the other person.

On the path to Sanctuary Certification, The Wright Center will need to ensure that:

  • “Treatment and supervision practices include conversations about emotional management.
  • Behavior management practices are strength based. There is a mechanism in place to identify, discuss and correct drift from these strength based practices towards coercive practices. (i.e. address physical, verbal and psychological coercion)
    • Do you want to know your strengths? There are a lot of resources out there, but here is an evidence-based and free one that is also very good: https://www.viacharacter.org/
  • Interpersonal activities in this community (TWC) are observed to be based upon the importance of managing and modeling safe and respectful expressions of effect, regardless of context.
  • Community members teach and practice self-regulation/ coping skills.”

This can look like:

  • Sitting in peaceful support with someone who is having a truly emotional moment and knowing that a supported emotional moment will only last about 90 seconds;
  • Learning our own patterns of reactivity to emotions in the workplace (and elsewhere), so that we can better address them, and
  • Supporting ourselves and those around us by consistently practicing approaches to self-regulation.

A quick internet search will provide a bazillion resources on self-regulation, but in general, they involve intentionality: intentional breathing, intentional attention/mindfulness, and intentional distraction, such as hobbies and fidgets. We will learn more about these practices, and how to use them in the workplace, as we progress together on this Sanctuary journey.

Quick Tip

There are a lot of webinars and brief courses for health care professionals to support patients and others with challenging, intrusive thoughts during the holiday season. What we often do not remind people is that these active tips help the helper, too – they provide the helper with the space needed between stimulus and response to make sure the response is truly effective.

In an interview with the American Medical Association, Virna Little, PsyD, LCSW-r, the chief operating officer and co-founder of Concert Health, offered “storage statements” as one brief intervention that you can practice ahead of time. These storage statements, according to Little, provide hope in as little as two or three sentences.

As mentioned in a recent Association of Clinicians for the Underserved webinar on this topic, the keys to helpful storage statements are:

  • Let the other know they’ve been heard
  • Let them know they matter, and
  • Provide them with hope by validating that what they’re dealing with is big and is also something that can be helped.

Creating storage statements and using them when someone is struggling can, in some cases, mean the difference between help and harm.

Here’s to the helpers.

Thank you,

Meaghan P. Ruddy, Ph.D.
Senior Vice President
Academic Affairs, Enterprise Assessment and Advancement,
and Chief Research and Development Officer
The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education

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