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New Research: Coaching Healthcare Workers Supports Wellness and Resilience During COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers face unprecedented challenges that pose a threat to mental health and resilience. A preliminary assessment of a program of coaching for healthcare workers, presented at the American Psychiatric Association’s Annual Meeting, held online, finds it is effective in supporting workers’ wellness and resilience.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA)

Based on experience supporting colleagues through SARS in 2003, mental health clinicians from the Psychiatry Department at Sinai Health in Toronto, Ontario, designed and implemented an initiative to support colleagues’ wellness and resilience in 2020 early in the pandemic. Resilience Coaching for Health Care Workers is designed to support psychological wellbeing during times of chronic stress and to help workers “keep their heads in the game so they can maintain the focus and rigor that their jobs require.”

The coaches are equipped to offer opportunities for emotional expression (almost always anger and fear), decompression and collaborative advocacy, and they provide education about stress reduction skills. The program employs principles of psychological first aid, resilience and psychotherapy to facilitate stress adaptation, skill-building, and adoption of wellness practices to mitigate burnout and bolster coping. Coaches also help clarify when to seek additional help. The program provides a kind of ‘psychological PPE’ to complement other protective measures.

There are currently 15 coaches working with 17 units and clinical teams at Sinai Health which encompasses Mount Sinai Hospital and Bridgepoint Active Health, both in Canada. Most coaches provide support to groups of up to 15 people either virtually or in person. More than 5,300 staff have received coaching support since the beginning of the program in April 2020.

Researchers, led by Benjamin Rosen, M.D., are assessing the implementation and impact of the coaching, including measuring psychological variables (burnout, posttraumatic symptoms, sleep disturbance, psychological distress) over time (every 3 months for 18 months) in members of departments that received coaching.

Preliminary analysis of qualitative data, which included interviews with coaches and recipients, suggests that coaching is successful in mitigating the severity of mental health threats that healthcare workers face. Qualitative results highlight some of the benefits of the coaching. For example, interviewees commented that the coaching improved inter-colleague relationships, decreased loneliness, and increased the feeling of being supported by the organization. Participants also commented on the value of it being regularly scheduled and embedded within the work environment.

The authors, Dr. Rosen and colleagues Mary Preisman, M.D., Robert Maunder, M.D., and Heather Read, Ph.D., also noted challenges to implementing the coaching approach, such as maintaining a distinction between coach support and clinical mental health care; maintaining enough coaches to meet needs; balancing coaches’ other responsibilities; and concerns about being too busy to make time to receive coaching.

Resilience coaching provided by internal staff can be an effective means to support hospital health care workers during a public health emergency, the authors conclude.

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