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Mental Health

Researchers Implement Coaching Program for Healthcare Workers

— May 14, 2021

Novel ‘psychological PPE’ program for healthcare workers is introduced in Canada.

Canadian researchers, led by Benjamin Rosen, M.D., assistant professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, are assessing the effectiveness of coaching healthcare workers during the COVID-19 crisis, including measuring psychological variables every 3 months for 18 months.  So far, the team has found the novel program has successfully “reduced the severity of mental health threats” in healthcare workers during the pandemic.  Their findings were presented at the virtual American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2021 Annual Meeting.

It is important to build resilience in order to maintain mental health and well-being, especially in times of uncertain (i.e., during the pandemic).  Significant changes, uncertainty, grief and loss, and isolation all induce anxiety, stress, depression, and other negative health issues.   Individual who are ‘resilient,’ are more apt to bounce back from adversity, trauma, and stress, because they have the tools to cope with life’s difficulties while maintaining a positive outlook.  Healthcare workers are on the frontlines of the coronavirus battle and are at especially high risk of witnessing the negative impact of the pandemic, so building resilience, the team suggests, is vital for these individuals.

Researchers Implement Coaching Program for Healthcare Workers
Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

The authors noted it is important to distinguish between coaching and clinical mental health care, and cite challenges as retaining a sufficient number of “coaches to meet needs, balancing coaches’ other responsibilities; and concerns about being too busy to make time to receive coaching.”

The pandemic has been “an enormous threat to the resilience of healthcare workers,” Rosen said. “Working at a hospital this year, you’re not only worried about battling COVID, but you’re also enduring uncertainty and fear and moral distress, which has contributed to unprecedented levels of burnout.”  He added, “The program provides a kind of ‘psychological PPE’ to complement other protective measures.”  He added, “The Resilience Coaching for Healthcare Workers program is designed to support psychological well-being during times of chronic stress and help healthcare workers keep their heads in the game so that they can sustain the focus and the rigor that they need to do their work.”

Preliminary analysis of qualitative data that included interviews with coaches and participants found the program was met with positive results.  Respondents said, “coaching improved inter-colleague relationships, decreased loneliness, and increased the feeling of being supported by the organization.” Participants also said the structure of the program being “regularly scheduled and embedded within the work environment” helped.  This made it more likely that they would have time to focus on it and engage in self-care despite mounting responsibilities.

“Resilience coaching provided by internal staff can be an effective means to support hospital health care workers during a public health emergency,” the authors concluded.

There are currently 15 coaches working with 17 units and clinical teams at Sinai Health, which includes Mount Sinai Hospital and Bridgepoint Active Health in Canada.   Most coaches provide support to groups of up to 15 people virtually or in person, and more than 5,300 staff have received coaching support since April of last year.  Participating coaches include mental health practitioners trained in psychological first aid, resilience, and psychotherapy.  The cross-disciplinary focus furthers the program’s reach.


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