Helping the Helpers

For mental health workers empathy is an essential aspect of good help. This is also a source for compassion fatigue, vicarious traumatisation or secondary traumatic stress (STS). Early recognition and awareness is crucial to be resilient to these symptoms. Awareness of this is important for workers in areas of conflict and disaster, and in extreme environments such as these, people may be more vulnerable to secondary traumatisation. We also know that professionals under this kind of stress may be at risk to perform less efficiently and not perform as they would normally do. Even large organizations that have the resources and knowledge about this particular kind of stress may have reduced capacity to deal with or take care of the affected personnel. As for local helpers, there may often not be any support or resources at all to deal with this. We hope these links will be useful for all persons engaged in this kind of important but heavy work.

Helping the Helpers – what kind of problems are they facing?
Tools, information, guidelines etc for Helping the Helpers
Organisations and sites

Helping the Helpers – what kind of problems are they facing?

The helpers in disaster and catastrophes are trying to solve problems sometimes too overwhelming. They are also just human beings, and although they haven`t went through those catastrophes by themselves, they have to cope with lots of horrible stories and impressions. That of course leaves marks on them, and sometimes they also develop severe psychological problems. Here we have collected a selection of articles high lightening some of these topics.

  • Compassion Fatigue: An Introduction
    A clinical overview on Compassion Fatigue and Secondary Traumatic Stress. We find the description of symptoms, and discussion of some studies. References to books on that topics, and some websites. – Charles Figley Ph.D., Florida State Univ. Traumatology Inst.
  • Resources for Survivors and Caregivers
    The organization “Gift from Within” is a non-profit organization, dedicated to help those who suffer of PTSD, and those who care for traumatized individuals. Under this link you find some articles on compassion fatigue and burnout, together with related topics. – GFW, 2010.
  • Helping the Helpers
    Very short abstract with the important topics what helpers have to consider when coping with disaster. – NC State Univ., 2000
  • When Helping Hurts
    This short article (2 p.) presents an overview on the psychological consequences helpers in disaster are suffering of. – Frank Ochberg, M.D.
  • The Importance of Helping the Helper
    The article provides with an overview over the problems and psychological consequences helpers are facing, by taking care of clients in very difficult and almost catastrophic situations, with focus on social workers in Child Welfare. – Roger Friedman, in Trauma and Child Welfare, 2002.
  • Compassion Fatigue
    A Power Point Presentation, which provides with a solid overview on Compassion Fatigue, Burnout, psychological problems helpers in disaster might face as a consequence. Discussion of strategies and tools (f.e. debriefing, and other interventions) to maintain strength and resources in the helpers. - Univ. of Missouri/Columbia, Husain and Anderson.
To the top

Tools, information, guidelines etc for Helping the Helpers

  • Stress Management in Disasters
    This workbook (26 p) describes the SMID concept (Stress Management in Disasters in the Caribbean), a “comprehensive, peer-driven, multi-component stress management program which is administered on a volunteer basis and was designed to prevent and to mitigate the psychological dysfunction which exposure to traumatic situations like disasters may cause in emergency response personnel. The program is based on the principles of crisis intervention and critical incident stress management and it is not intended to take the place of professional therapy”. Quite useful. - The Pan American Health Organization/WHO, Cyralene P. Bryce 2001
  • Insights into the Concepts of Stress
    This workbook (80 p) is together with the workbook mentioned above, to describe the SMID concept. Both workbooks were designed to provide the basic training material for persons who will provide help for the helpers. Quite useful. - The Pan American Health Organization/WHO, Cyralene P. Bryce 2001
  • United Nations Stress Management Booklet
    The booklet (45 p.) represents the UN`s approach to help the helpers. “Many of today's peace-keepers must confront intense, traumatic and even life-threatening situations which may induce serious and prolonged levels of stress. Therefore, stress management training has become an increasingly important factor in the adequate preparation and training of United Nations peace-keepers. This document has been created to provide a basic framework for professional stress management trainers. - The United Nations Department of Peace-keeping, New York, 1995.
  • Caring for volunteers
    The IFRC Psychosocial Centre´s new "Caring for Volunteers, a Psychosocial Support Toolkit," will help National Societies not only prepare volunteers but also support them during and after disasters, conflicts and other dramatic events. The toolkit contains practical tools for preparing for and handling crises, as well as for peer support and communication. In addition, there is a chapter on how to monitor and evaluate volunteers' efforts. Some of the tools can be printed out for managers in the field and for volunteers.
  • Managing Stress in the Field
    An IFRC Psychosocial Centre leaflet designed for delegates and field workers before, during and after their mission. Its aim is to help them to recognize, prevent and reduce stress in situations of complex humanitarian disaster.
  • Helping the Helpers – Acute Stress
    The Headington Institute has published some very god learning- and training materials, This education module/booklet (177 p) tries to help mental health professionals to better understand stressors, dangers, development of acute stress reactions, assessment tools etc. along with suggestions for treatment. Very useful. – Headington Institute,
  • Understanding and coping with traumatic stress / eLearning
    Headington Inst provides professional helpers with a quite good eLearning module. – Headington Inst 2010.
  • Online Training Programs
    The Headington Institute provides also some other very good online training courses to download/do online.
    On this site you`ll find:
  • Psychological First Aid - Trainer Manual
    This represents an manual to help professional health workers to set up a workshop to help helpers with psychological problems after disaster. - University of Nebraska, policy center
  • Managing stress in humanitarian workers
    The organization provides here with some “guidelines for good practice”, with 8 principles defining how the helpers should be guided and supported. – Antares Foundation 2008
  • Professional Quality of Life Test
    This test (version 5, aug 2009) provides with material to estimate the impact, the possible burnout or compassion fatigue in the helpers in disaster. – Professional Quality of Life/ Beth Hudnall Stamm et al. 2010.
  • The Concise ProQOL Manual 2009
    The background material and statistics in a manual (55 p.) for the ProQOL test mentioned above. – Beth Hudnall Stamm, 2009.
To the top

Organisations and sites

  • Green Cross
    The Green Cross is an international, humanitarian assistance organization, non-profit corporation comprised of trained traumatologists and compassion fatigue service providers. The organization is oriented to helping people in crisis following traumatic events.
  • Gift from Within
    The organization “Gift from Within” is an online, non-profit organization, dedicated to help those who suffer of PTSD, and those who care for traumatized individuals. Founded by a non-clinician, supported and carried also by clinicians.
  • Centre for Humanitarian Psychology
    Via training and information targets this organization to stabilize psychosocial skills for “more efficient aid workers”. Some information is free, some (f.e. e-learning) has to be purchased.
  • Psychosocial – Helping the Helpers
    This site provides resources for field staff as well as managers, and some internet-links to related topics.
  • Headington Institute
    This institute was established in 2001, it provides a collaborative network of mental health professionals offering a variety of services to humanitarian workers. The aim is to provide psychological and spiritual support for humanitarian relief and development workers worldwide. It offers training programs/also e-learning, counseling, debriefing etc.
  • The Mindfullness for NGO gives you a more personal insight into the world of NGO workers in stressful situation. They are bringing mindfulness-based stress reduction and burnout prevention training to aid workers and professionals on the frontline that work in partnership with Oxford University.
  • Antares Foundation
    This is a non-profit organization, its mission is to improve the quality of management and staff support and care in humanitarian and developmental organizations.
  • Professional Quality of Life
    This website gives some overview and help in case of compassion fatigue, burnout and related topics. Created by dedicated people working as psychologists, historians and in other fields.
  • Online courses
    The project is a free and comprehensive resource that is a collection of open college courses that spans videos, audio lectures, and notes given by professors at Harvard, Princeton and MIT. Which offer highly relevant courses such as iPhone Application Development from Stanford and Cyber Humor from Oxford.
To the top

HHRI are not responsible for the content of external websites. Links are made because we think the
content might be of use. The comments and evaluation on this page are made by our staff to make
the links more accessible to you, and is entirely our subjective impression of the link in relation to our context.


Kirkegata 5, 0153 Oslo, Norway