1997-98 Academy Text Supplement

Chapter 21-14

Coping With Stress and Preventing Burnout

Abstract: Numerous training programs have been developed that address stress and burnout related to work in general and certain professions in particular. In addition, there are countless schools of thought on how to intervene with employees who experience stress-related symptoms. This chapter discusses the unique stressors experienced by victim service providers, including the stress of working with issues related to crime victimization and advocacy and dealing with the limitations of the criminal justice and community service systems. Techniques for recognizing and managing stress and preventing burnout are also presented.

Learning Objectives: Upon completion of this chapter, students will understand the following concepts:

1. Recognition of the unique stressors involved in handling crime victims' issues.

2. Understanding of the stressors that are typically a part of working environments.

3. Recognition of important and early signs of stress before the stress becomes overwhelming for the individual.

4. Suggested methods for relieving stress, including relaxation techniques.

Statistical Overview

Frequently 40%

Sometimes 39%

Rarely 17%

Never 4%

(Paulsen, B. (1994, October). "Work and Play, a Nation Out of Balance." Health, Vol. 8., no. 6., p. 44.)

Unique Sources of Stress in Working with Crime Victims

Professionals who assist crime victims face several unique sources of stress that go beyond the typical stressors experienced by those in other work environments. Victim service providers are expected to provide comforting, compassionate support for crime victims, while at the same time they are expected to be outspoken advocates to ensure that victims are extended their rights within the justice system and that they receive necessary services. In addition, many crime victim professionals work within the very system they are trying to impact and know all to well its limitations. The responsibility of serving in sometimes conflicting roles can be a major source of stress.

Another source of stress that often affects those in the helping professions relates to the desire to help those in need. How do you know when enough is really enough? This question plagues the victim service profession and often arises in trainings conducted on stress and burnout for victim service providers. Without accepted standards for the field, with varying organizational policies on how far the role of the victim service provider extends, and without a "manual" on what it takes to provide reasonable and appropriate victim assistance, most victim service providers find they must set their own limits. This, too, can cause stress.

Finally, the nature of the work causes many crime victim advocates to be in regular contact with people who have suffered severe trauma and loss. To assist victims of crime effectively requires tremendous emotional energy and resilience and is a near-constant source of stress. Stressful situations that the victim-serving community may encounter include:

These represent work-related stressors that are quite different from most job settings and may affect an individual victim advocate in profound ways.

Understanding Your Ability to Tolerate Stress

An individual's ability to tolerate stress often depends on the frequency, severity, and types of stressors confronted. It also depends on many intrinsic or personal characteristics, including:

In addition, several external or organizational factors can contribute to stress. A brief list of these stressors includes:

Manifestations of Stress: Recognizing the Signs

Stress has an effect on all aspects of an individual's emotions and behavior, as well as his/her physical health. Researchers generally divide the manifestations of stress into three general categories: psychological, behavioral, and physical. Most training programs on stress begin with an overview of psychological indicators of stress. The symptoms of psychological stress can include the following:

There are also behavioral symptoms associated with stress. These symptoms can affect an individual's work performance, such as:

Finally, the physical manifestations of stress are often ignored by the individual experiencing long periods of stress until they reach the point of critical consequences. Common signs of the physical impact of stress include:

Additional Signs of Stress

Other signs of being highly stressed include the following observations expressed by victim service providers who have attended stress workshops throughout the field. These signs include the following:

Recognizing Stress in Your Working Environment

In addition to the inherent stress involved in responding to crime victims, victim service providers also face many other circumstances that add to their stress in the working environment. While criminal justice-based victim service professionals may face different stressors than professionals in community-based agencies, there are common stressors experienced by most victim service providers.

In March of 1997, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) released a comprehensive report entitled Developing a Law Enforcement Stress Program for Officers and Their Families. NIJ's Report provides a list of psychological stressors facing law enforcement officers. Developed by Dr. Terry Eisenberg, the report has been used by the International Association of Chiefs of Police in their law enforcement training programs. The following overview of stressors facing victim services professionals has been adapted from Dr. Eisenberg's work as reported in the NIJ Report.

Common Sources of Victim Service Provider Stress

the next moment, being a strong, outspoken advocate on behalf of the victim to ensure their rights are accorded.

Techniques to Help Prevent Stress

from Becoming Burnout

Burnout is a severe reaction to stress that results in a state of physical and emotional depletion from the conditions of one's occupation (Public Service Commission, 1991). Because of the

intense nature of the work required by the field of victim assistance -- dealing on a daily basis with issues involving injury and death, frustrations faced with each new case requiring renewed advocacy, compassion, and vigor, and often low pay and a lack of job security -- burnout can occur. In addition to reducing the number of stressors, the following techniques are suggested for program directors to help to try and prevent staff burnout. This information is not only for program directors, it also can serve a useful purpose for program staff to assess whether their agency is taking necessary steps to prevent staff burnout.

(The following information has been adapted from Developing a Law Enforcement Stress Program for Officers and Their Families, National Institute of Justice, March 1997.)

To prevent burnout of victim services staff, program directors should:

Tips for Helping to Relieve Stress

The following information is provided by Dodi Christiano, M.A., a licensed professional counselor who specializes in not only treating individual patients with stress-related problems, but also in conducting community education on stress management.

Time Management

It is important to have balance in your life: balance between work and play; between adult social time and alone time; between family time, physical activity time and spiritual expression. Assess your priorities; make time for each category. Look at how you establish your priorities. Do you only do things you "have to" or do you include things you "want to" do. Try to turn the "have-to's" into "want-to's'.


How you think can have a profound affect on your emotional and physical well-being. Each time you think a negative thought about yourself, your body reacts as if it were in the throes of a tension-filled situation. If you see good things about yourself, you are more likely to feel good -- the reverse is also true. Eliminate words such as "always," "never," "should," and "must." These are telltale marks of self-defeating thoughts. Talk to yourself, switch negative self statements to positive statements. For example, "I can do....(whatever it is you are setting out to do)" or, "I made a mistake, but I can do....(whatever it is you are setting out to do)" or, "I made a mistake, but I do a lot of things right."

Relaxation, Meditation, Guided Imagery

Physiologically relaxing your body brings down heart rate, blood pressure and slows breathing. These are all manifestations of stress release in your body. Work up to at least once per day (20-30 minutes) to center yourself with meditation, relaxation exercises, or guided imagery tapes.


Our bodies were designed to move. Built up stress can be difficult by physical activity. Walk if you cannot do anything else. Aerobic activity, on a regular basis, plays a significant role in boosting the immune system. Work up to incorporating some form of physical exercise three times per week.

Fun and Laughter

There is a measured effect of the relaxation response after a good laugh. Laughing reduces stress! Do something playful at least once per week, if not once per day. Have fun in your life!

Relaxation Exercises for Relieving Stress

Stress can be relieved in a number of ways. The same method may not work each time an individual attempts to relieve stress -- so you must try different things. One way to reduce stress is to employ relaxation techniques. The following overview provides some exercises victim service providers can use to relax. Each exercise usually takes 15 to 20 minutes, but "mini" sessions can always be tried in situations where one is pressed for time and in desperate need of some stress relief. (Sharp, 1996).

more experienced with imagery, you can use it anywhere. For example, if stress takes over your mind while you are waiting for someone to show up for an appointment, take a couple of minutes to use imagery to relax so you can focus.

Self Examination Chapter 21, Section 14

Coping With Stress and Preventing Burnout

1) What are three symptoms of psychological stress?

2) What are three physical manifestations of stress?

3) What are four common organizational stressors?

4) There are many ways for organizations to help reduce stress on employees; list at least three.

5) What techniques can you use to reduce stress?


Canadian Public Service Commission. (1992). "Stress and Executive Burnout." Focus on Staff, 4 (1).

Elkin, A. & Rosch, P. (1990). "Promoting Mental Health at Work." Occupational Medicine State of the Art Review, 5, 739-54.

Finn, P. & Tomz, J. (1997). "Developing a Law Enforcement Stress Program for Officers and Their Families." National Institute of Justice, Issues and Practices, 8-9, 56.

Nowroozi, C. (1994). "How Stress Can Make You Sick." Nation's Business, 82 (12), 82.

Palmer, S. & Drydan, W. (1996). Stress Management and Counseling: Theory, Practice, Research, and Methodology. New York: Cassel Publishers.

Paulsen, B. (1994). "Work and Play, A Nation out of Balance." Health, 8, (6), 44.

Sharp, K. (1996). "Ready....Get Set....Relax!" Current Health 2, 23, (4), 21.

Standfest, S. (1996). "The Police Survivor and Stress." The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 65, 7.

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