Looking after your general practice team while caring for people experiencing family violence

  18 June 2021  NWMPHN Primary Health Care Improvement team   

A key factor in the ability to care for others is the ability to care for oneself.

Working with patients affected by family violence can be difficult and emotionally confronting. GPs and other health professionals may be feeling overwhelmed and powerless to deal with the issue or worried about making the situation worse.

GPs can find dealing with both the victim/survivor and the perpetrator difficult. Being a direct or indirect witness to family violence can result in compassion fatigue, burnout, vicarious trauma and secondary traumatic stress.

Trauma has also been reported in people who have indirect contact with patients, including:

  • receptionists
  • supervisors
  • managers
  • people processing accounts and patient records
  • family members of the treating professionals.

It’s important for GPs and other general practice team members to be aware of their own support needs and the strategies they can put in place. The below responses can be used to prevent and respond to compassion fatigue, burnout, vicarious trauma and secondary traumatic stress on a personal level.

What can you do to support yourself?

  1. Develop an awareness of your own personal risk of burnout and secondary trauma and accept reactions as a normal response to specialised work. Implement the five principles of trauma-informed care – safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and empowerment – into daily practice.
  2. Promote personal well-being by being physically active, engaging socially, and volunteering in your community and adopt appropriate self-care strategies.
    • Find a way to escape physically and/or mentally. For example: reading, days off, holidays. walks, seeing friends.
    • Rest. Have some time with no goals. For example: taking naps, watching clouds, lying in a park or on the beach.
    • Play. Have fun and do things that make you laugh. For example: playing with children and pets, creative activities, watching a favourite movie.
  3. Take responsibility for your own mental health and well-being.
    • Honour your scheduled breaks and annual leave.
    • Develop and maintain clear limits and boundaries with patients. Boundaries should be mutually negotiated, and care should be taken to ensure that the patient understands their significance and does not experience them as punitive.
    • Be kind and supportive to your co-workers and make sure to celebrate achievements and birthdays to take time out.
  4. Find a sense of meaning in your work and develop a connection or spirituality to something that provides guidance for and develops a positive outlook on life.
  1. Improve your skills in the field of trauma and family violence. The following resources are available to help you.

For after-hours support, the 1800RESPECT telephone and online counselling services are available 24 hours a day for professionals to discuss the personal impact of working with people who have experienced violence.