Dr. El

The COVID-19 pandemic has been taxing for virtually everyone in long-term care, from the C-suite to direct care providers. I’ve written about my own experience with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after working in a pandemic epicenter earlier in the year. 

While crises often have short- and long-term negative effects, psychologists have found that there also can be opportunities for positive change.

I looked at the concept of post-traumatic growth with the hope of identifying some aspects that could be fostered in LTC leaders, workers and perhaps the field in general.

Post-traumatic growth (PTG) is frequently confused with “resilience,” or the ability to “bounce back” from troubles. Instead, PTG refers to the changes that take place when an individual has difficulty bouncing back, goes through a psychological struggle and ultimately comes through this period with a changed outlook on life. 

On a systemic level, I’d like to think that the country is going through a reckoning regarding how it finances and cares for frail elders that will result in significant improvements. 

On an individual level, while many people adjust relatively quickly to stressors such as those from the pandemic, others need more time to recover. It can be helpful for supervisors, coworkers and those in the middle of the struggle to know that with time things will get better, especially with support.

To aid workers, organizations can make use of the suggestions I outlined in “Contending with employees’ pandemic-related stress.” Trauma-informed counseling, if needed, can help people get back on track in terms of reducing symptoms and resuming daily functioning.

Once the initial trauma is addressed, a focus on post-traumatic growth seeks to help people “develop new principles for living that involve altruistic behavior, having a mission in life and purpose that goes beyond oneself, so that trauma is transformed into something that’s useful not only for oneself but for others.”

This sounds like a good foundation for work in long-term care. 

Psychologist Richard Tedeschi, Ph.D. describes five elements of growth that can be applied to grappling with the pandemic.

  1. Education about how the pandemic is a “disruption of core belief systems,” such as a faith that those in charge would have been able to prevent COVID-19 losses in our field and in our country. Growth entails developing a new belief system that can incorporate a changed perspective of the world. 
  1. Emotional regulation involves finding a way through the feelings of loss and grief and moving towards a more positive state of mind, focusing on what you or your organization can reasonably do.
  1. Disclosure can aid the coping process. Tedeschi recommends talking about what’s happening and addressing “its effects — both small and broad, short- and long-term, personal and professional, individual and organizational — and what you are struggling with” in the wake of the trauma.
  1. Narrative development means creating an authentic story that helps people understand past trauma and create a better future. On a personal level, the story might be of someone who used the crisis of the pandemic to reflect on what was important to them and perhaps decide to go back to school for an advanced degree, or to move closer to family members. In the case of long-term care, we might acknowledge that we’ve suffered as a field during this pandemic but then used the experience to make changes that have been necessary for decades. 
  1. Service is a component reflective of Tedeschi’s research showing that people do better after trauma if they find work that helps others. Since those in long-term care already have work that helps others, this might be experienced as a recommitment to the field, or as a recognition that an organization needs to better attend to the needs of its workers, residents, families or local community.

For most individuals, it will be a great relief and quite sufficient to return after trauma to a prior level of functioning. For long-term care as an industry and for society in general, though, I hope the losses and trials of the pandemic lead to increased recognition of our value and interconnectedness, more compassionate care for elders and to post-traumatic growth.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D., author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide, is an Award of Excellence winner in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is a Bronze Medalist for Best Blog in the American Society of Business Publication Editors national competition andGold Medalist in the Blog-How To/Tips/Service category in their Midwest Regional competition. To contact her for speaking engagements and/or content writing, visit her at EleanorFeldmanBarbera.com.