In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the immediate response focused on utilizing the best resources available to mobilize against this public health threat. Across every medical, scientific, and social landscape, humanity maneuvered to confront one of the most significant threats to the public health in recent history Frontline clinicians were crucial to this effort, making up the backbone of the coordinated response intended to beat back the COVID - 19 and save lives. From doctors and nurses to social workers and case managers, essential workers of all stripes answered the call to unite in the face of the pandemic.
Yet these efforts were not without penalties to this overworked population. Just weeks after the United States entered the fray, policy experts and health advocates alike issued a warning about the increasing cost being paid by professionals at the frontline. Faced with escalating moral injury, burnout began to take on the shape of its own crisis across mental health lines. Confronted with this inescapable reality, Migrant Clinicians Network turned to Witness to Witness, asking, “What is the best way for us to help the helpers?”
Thus, our campaign, #HelpTheHelpers was born, and the need immediately became clear: frontline clinicians were experiencing unprecedented moral injury as a result of fighting the pandemic. One such helper in need is Sonia, a licensed family and marriage therapist in California. Just a few months into the pandemic, she observed the emergence of symptoms consistent with burnout, a common experience among individuals whose professional works begins to overload their personal lives. Sonia chose to respond by getting more involved in outreach efforts designed to assist individuals being hardest hit by the virus. While she found meaning in her work, she also encountered increasing levels of tension as a growing number of neighbors resisted mask mandates, defied business closure ordinances, and refused to socially distance.
Frustrated by the city’s inability to respond to such measures, Sonia’s stress load amplified, leaving her feeling completely helpless in the face of the systemic issues impacting her work. At the suggestion of a friend, she contacted the Witness to Witness program, finding relief in connecting with a peer who validated her experience. Sonia received four peer sessions with a trained volunteer therapist, whose focus on Sonia’s natural resilience to coach her out of the sense of helplessness and guide her to a place of resilience. For Sonia, the work has created a considerable shift in her perspective, one that she believes will be permanent. The credit for that, she feels, is attributable to the participants of Witness to Witness, reflecting, “I think I got lucky, because she’s so sharp. I can tell she’s a great therapist. I’m not back in therapy, because folks like her are so hard to find. She just helped me through a very dark patch.”
Sonia’s experience with Witness to Witness, under the umbrella of the Migrant Clinicians Network, demonstrates the wide reach of what has been offered to numerous frontline clinicians during the COVID-19 pandemic. For the last calendar year, Witness to Witness volunteers have cast a wide net, generating a considerable impact across the globe designed to promote empowerment among the individuals working to deliver the world from the worst of the pandemic’s impacts. In the last three months, much of this work has been domestic; Witness to Witness has promoted significant education around the importance of resiliency in the face of moral injury through social media posts, email blasts, and newsletters. This education has also generated more direct contact with constituents, evident in the more than a dozen online seminars designed to help facilitate increased awareness of moral injury, and education about how best to support workers in need of witnessing. Much like the peer sessions Sonia benefitted from, Witness to Witness has offered a number of small groups and individual connection work to dozens of people, creating a shift in the status quo for providers engaged directly at the frontline.
The knowledge that there will always be a need for efforts to Help the Helpers, a rallying cry that Witness to Witness and the Migrant Clinicians Network will be all too ready to answer.