Monday, March 24, 2008

Survival Psychology

First, let me preface this post with the fact that I am in no way a psychologist, psychiatrist, or any other kind of mental health professional. I have, however, worked with many front line military and medical professionals and there are a number of traits I have noticed in those who successfully (or as successfully as can be expected) transition through traumatic incidents.

Those who have good survival psychology skills often have the following qualities:
  • They are funny as hell. While during a traumatic incident they are all business, when it comes time to kick back and let lose, they are so funny. Pranks and gallows humor are just a couple of ways to safely relieve the pressure that builds up. Some of the funniest people I know are coroners and paramedics.
  • They have other interests. On the job they give 110% but it isn't their entire life. They realize one way to let off steam is to concentrate completely on something different (preferably something that doesn't include blood and guts). A trauma surgeon I know is also an award winning painter, a Navy doc enjoys curling in his off time, a fire chief spends all of his free time on his boat...
  • They release the pressure physically. Working out is a common way to relieve stress, but so is chopping wood, kayaking, gardening...anything that gets your mind off of the horrific last call and lets the mind and body focus on something more mundane can be cathartic.
  • They know they can't control people or situations. Expectations often go out the window in traumatic/survival situations. The ability to be flexible, "go with the flow", and get the job done is paramount.
  • They seek help when they need it...some more willingly than others. CISD, QI reviews, counseling, talking with others who have survived similar situations, all are options to work through psychologically traumatic events.

As a side note, those who don't seem to survive psychologically trying events very well remind me of a pressure cooker. They add a whole lot to the pot, the lid is latched on tight and the heat is cranked up high. Eventually they blow a gasket and you end up with quite a mess to clean up.

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