Corrections work is exceptionally stressful. In fact, in a study published in 2012, it was found that probation officers are at risk of suffering from mental health issues due to being exposed to traumatic incidents inherent in the nature of their work. Another study even reported war-zone level post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among correctional staff.

Click here to learn more about PTSD.

Why Do Mental Health Probation Officers Suffer Emotional Trauma?

Mental health probation officers, in particular, will have to deal with challenging caseloads, which could expose them to suicide, violence, and offenses involving child victims.

On top of that, compassion and empathy are necessary if you are to build rapport with offenders with mental health problems. However, your capacity to empathize could only go so far before you get emotionally drained—or worse, traumatized. Compassion fatigue is a real struggle. Being exposed to someone else’s pain and suffering could take a toll on your mental health as well.

So how do you cope and rise above the emotional baggage from working in corrections? Here are ways to do that.

Look After Your Well-Being

There may be days when you feel that your emotions are out of your control. But there are some things that are within your control. One of which is your physical health.

When you feel low or anxious, it’s hard to move an inch—much less, take care of your physical well-being and appearance. And this is why keeping a regular healthy routine is very important. It will help you stick to a plan even when you don’t feel like it. Here are some of the things you need to include in your routine:

  • Drink at least eight glasses of water.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet of vegetables, meat, and fruits.
  • Eat three meals every day.
  • Have a personal hygiene routine.

These routines may seem very basic. But when you’re down and don’t feel like doing anything, these activities will keep you on track to making healthy choices every day. And a healthy body is always a step towards better mental health.

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Remember: Isolation is Not Your Friend

If you’ve seen too much violence or witnessed something that regular people can’t relate to, withdrawing from people is the easiest thing to do. It’s hard to trust people especially if you’ve been in an environment that doesn’t particularly bolster trust. So yes, it’s so hard–but connecting to people is also necessary for your healing. You don’t even have to talk about your trauma or your experiences in prison. There’s comfort just by interacting and engaging with other people.

Here are ways to cultivate meaningful relationships with other people:

Reconnect with old friends. If you drifted away from people who were once close to you, it’s time to make an effort to reconnect with them. The fear of rejection will be there. But acceptance from those people who’ve known you for a long time can be such a healing balm.

Join a support group. Being with people who’ve seen and felt the same things that you do will help ease the feeling of isolation. In particular, join a PTSD support group. The people who know what it’s like to suffer and yet have made that daily decision to rise above their experiences will be the inspiration you need to keep pushing as well.

Volunteer. Experiencing trauma has a way of making you feel helpless. You can counter that feeling by being of help to someone else.

Get On Your Feet

Experiencing trauma can wreak havoc on your emotions. There will be days when you’ll feel nothing but anxiety and fear. In such instances, a good dose of endorphin will help provide the balance that your body craves. Your body releases these feel-good chemicals when you exercise.

To get the most out of exercise, consider these tips:

  1. Do it regularly. As with many other things in life, consistency trumps intensity in exercise. Going for a 30-minute walk every day is better than spending hours on end at the gym when you feel like it.
  2. Practice mindfulness with your movements. You’re already getting some benefits just by moving your body. But when you practice mindfulness while exercising, you will begin to move with purpose. When you’re mindful of every action, stroke, and step your body makes, you will begin to relax and feel your anxiety ebb away.
  3. Go for full-body exercise. This type of exercise will not just work on some muscle group, but it will also work most of your upper body and lower body muscles at once. Simple full-body exercises you can do without any equipment includes pushups, lunges, squats, and running.

Rediscover Your Faith

Believing that there’s a Power that’s greater than your current reality can be a very potent force that helps you when you’re dealing with emotional trauma. Faith can also serve as a stress buffer, giving you a renewed sense of purpose and meaning despite the emotions you’re feeling and the situations you’ve been through while in prison.

Thus, it can be therapeutic for you to go on a faith journey and reach out to people of the same faith. Your faith might be the light that you need in times of adversity. Here’s how it can help you:

It helps you reframe situations through the eyes of hope and healing. As a mental health probation officer, it’s easy to become fatalistic when you’ve seen the worst in prison. But believing in a Higher Power gives you the strength to transcend over your immediate experience. You trust and you hope for healing. And you see purpose even in the midst of your anguish.

It gives you a sense of belonging. When you journey with others of the same faith, it makes you a part of a cause that’s greater than yourself. Fellowships like this are very empowering. And it allows you to divert your attention from your own thoughts and emotions to a very inspiring cause.

It can calm you. Faith often involves prayer, contemplation, devotion, and meditation. Studies have shown that these activities are known to cause changes in your body so that you relax and become more resilient in times of stress.

Learn to Calm Yourself

During times when you feel agitated or out of control, it’s vital that you learn techniques that will help calm you down. Some things you can do so you can self-regulate your nervous system includes:

Practice mindful breathing. If you feel anxious or disoriented, taking 60 deep breaths could help calm you down. You can focus your attention on your breathing to take your mind off of troubling thoughts.

Learn stress relief techniques. There are lots of sensory techniques you can try that may help calm you down when you are bombarded with negative emotions. For instance, looking at pictures of your family might relieve your stress. Running in place, singing your favorite song, or wrapping yourself in a blanket may help steady your nerves. We have different reactions to sensory stimuli so you need to check which works for you.

Acknowledge your feelings. Having all those unwanted emotions may feel unbecoming for a mental health probation officer, but you need to accept it. By allowing yourself to feel and own those emotions, you also develop more capacity for positive feelings like joy, gratitude, and hope. You develop self-awareness and become more conscious of how those feelings shape your thinking and decisions.

Try pet therapy. Animals have a way of sensing emotions through the chemical changes in your body. And they can also help calm you when you’re having an episode of intense emotions. A study has shown that interacting with a dog for as little as one week has reduced anxiety symptoms and sleep medications in patients with PTSD by half.

To know more about animal-assisted therapy, click here.

Seek Treatment

It’s never a shame to ask for help if you’re suffering from emotional trauma. In fact, recognizing the need for help is a step toward healing.

Fortunately, there are numerous therapies that can help treat emotional trauma. Some of the common therapies used in residential mental health treatment are:

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a form of psychotherapy that requires collaboration between you and a counselor. This treatment focuses on rooting out your thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs that affect your behaviors and feelings. This will give you a level of awareness of your automatic thoughts to help you develop a positive way of perceiving events and situations.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Processing (EMDR)

EMDR is an interactive psychotherapy technique that’s used to treat trauma and PTSD by relieving psychological stress. Treatment usually takes 12 sessions. You will have to relive your traumatic experience while the therapist provides bilateral stimulation to direct your eye movement. This will make the memory of the traumatic event less distressing for you.

Anxiety Management

This can be done in a one-on-one setting with a counselor or with a group. This therapy will tackle different strategies to manage triggers that cause anxiety. In a group session, other people will also share their personal experiences in dealing with anxiety and which strategy works for them to reduce their symptoms.

Since there are lots of therapy options, it’s best to go for an individualized treatment approach. Different individuals have varying backgrounds, situations, and responses. So treatment plans should be tailored to individual needs. If you want to know which therapies suit you, click here for an assessment.