How Trauma-Informed Leadership Can Help Those Who Help Others

Untitled design (1)2.14.2022

By: Thomas Becher

Healthcare workers aren’t the only ones struggling during the pandemic with heavy caseloads, exhausted staff, and witness to trauma.

The same is true of parole and probation professionals – those on the front lines nationwide to reduce recidivism and keep communities be safe.

At the recent winter meeting of the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) in Atlanta, we learned that these stresses are leading to early retirements, depression, thoughts of suicide, and even an increase in the suicide rates among officers. Probation and parole professionals are exposed to high levels of trauma, uniquely different from what people outside the profession experience.

Speakers at a plenary session at the conference, then, raised an important question: Who is helping the caretakers who help others? And how can leaders step up to support those on the front lines?  


Trauma-informed Leadership


It starts at the top, like anything that needs changing.

The keynote speakers, David Black, CEO of Cordico, and Christopher Hansen, director of probation with Solano County, Calif., advocated for probation and parole departments to adopt trauma-informed leadership. It’s a way to better understand the needs of individuals’ emotional scars while appreciating how emotional experiences such as lack of sleep, flashbacks, nightmares, or feeling withdrawn or hyper-vigilant can be triggered in the workplace.

Trauma-informed leadership encourages leaders to take time to understand problems and how to identify mental health challenges among their teams. Adopting this mindset, the speakers said, can provide officers with strength, stability, and support during these challenging times.

Yet, like with other law enforcement professionals, there continues to be a stigma related to mental health. Hansen acknowledged that, in the past, officers didn’t want to ask for help because it was a perceived sign of weakness. But ignoring the problem will lead to department turnover, absences, and burnout, so it’s past time to worry about stigma, especially since profession-related depression in this field can double every five years if left unchecked.


How to Make a Difference


The presenters had some advice for probation leaders:

  • Be aware: Learn about stress factors and the impact on the mental health of professionals.
  • Don’t make things worse: Listen to your team and acknowledge the issues. Forget about stigmas and don’t ignore concerns.
  • Be helpful. Provide resources and support.

Black and Hansen urged probation and parole departments to consider support that includes:

  • Self-assessments. Apps or web-based tools that can identify issues and provide solutions related to stress and mental well-being.
  • Culture of awareness. It’s OK to ask for help without stigma or retribution.
  • Confidentiality. Provide for personnel to come forward privately.
  • 24/7 access. A career that works around the clock needs support at all hours, whether in-house support or external hotlines.
  • Rest and recovery. Understand the toll of stress and emotional anguish and encourage personnel to take time off.
  • Counseling. Seeking professional help can go a long way toward recovery.
  • Peer support. Encourage teams to be there for each other. Talk about problems and listen to concerns.

Averhealth is proud to support our probation and parole professionals nationwide. We encourage officers, many of whom witness some of society’s worst elements every day, to assess their own mental health, get help if needed, and support the concepts of trauma-informed leadership that we learned at APPA in Atlanta.

Your clients – and family – are relying on you.