Date of the last update: 13.12.2022
“Helping the helpers” is a concept that manifests empathy, understanding and support towards people who help others. Find out about which problems helping professionals face, and how you can make the world a better place by helping them yourself!
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Who are the “helpers of the helpers”?
When we write about helpers, we refer to the people who offer their help professionally, such as health care workers, people running the services fighting the effects of natural disasters, as well as the employees and volunteers of foundations and charitable organizations. Particularly often The term is often used in the context of work in areas of extreme conflict or natural disasters. Aid services personnel – however prepared for extremely difficult conditions they may be – are faced with severe stress and, sometimes consequently, burnout. To work efficiently and ensure the quality of the assistance they provide, they too need support.
Helpers helping the helpers are people who – even in the case of extreme, dangerous events – are there to support if necessary. When southern California experienced an unexpected weather collapse and wave of mudslides in 2018, 23 people lost their lives and hundreds were injured. In addition to professional services, ordinary local residents also rushed to the scene of the tragedy to help. Instead of moving away from the danger area, they headed towards it, feeling that they may be of use on the site. In psychological terms, this urge to help is known as empathy, compassion, a pro-social attitude or altruism. According to some studies, people who have previously experienced suffering themselves are more likely to want to help others.
What problems do the helpers face?
People assisting accidents, humanitarian disasters, natural disasters, and sites of armed conflict, must solve problems that often prove too overwhelming to handle alone. They are ‘only’ human beings, and while they themselves have not experienced the trauma directly, seeing such difficult events can cause serious problems such as professional burnout, mental strain, post-traumatic stress, and depression. Witnessing or hearing directly about catastrophic events can trigger () traumatic reactions, especially for highly empathetic and sensitive people. Simple exposure to traumatic situations can lead to emotional problems, relationship challenges, physical ailments, or a sense of meaninglessness in life, due to the suffering they witness.
To counteract the challenges of helping others, the support provided by superiors, co-workers, family, friends and acquaintances is essential.
Four tools to help those who help
According to Maryam Kia-Keating – Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of California – there are four ways to support people who experience the negative impacts of helping others.
1. Help them keep their faith in kindness
People who are constantly helping weak and disadvantaged people affected by tragedy, need to be reminded that the world is a good place after all. Support helpers by showing them kindness, even in the form of small gestures, such as inviting them for coffee or running an errand for them. At the same time, remember that doing good for another person increases your own sense of happiness!
2. Recognise their efforts
Feeling appreciated by society helps relieve the negative effects of being exposed to stressful events, so show the helpers how much we appreciate what they do. This can be through a deep conversation, a personal letter, or even recognition through a post on social media. Appreciation makes the hard work and sacrifices more worthwhile for the helpers.
3. Create a space for them to mentally relax
This is a task for both employers and homemakers. Those facing severe stress, and job burnout need a safe space for them to calm down, meditate, practice mindfulness, or whatever may personally revitalise them. This opportunity reduces emotional exhaustion for health care workers and other active caregivers.
4. Raise the bucket
’Pick up the bucket’ means doing something good for others yourself, even a small, seemingly insignificant gesture. Instead of looking for helpers around you, it could be worth becoming a helper yourself, providing help to the best of your ability. It is good practice to cultivate empathy and become more attentive to where we can help people in everyday situations. It could also be a good idea to participate in local volunteering. People with children, on the other hand, can contribute by teaching them to help others from an early age. If each of us ’adds our bit’ and does good for others, the world will become a far better place!
- Maryam Kia-Keating Ph.D., 4 Ways to Help the Helpers, https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/help-is-the-way/202201/4-ways-help-the-helpers, access: 28.11.2022.