Over the past 18 months, the pandemic and the many associated societal stressors, have caused great suffering, and the behavioral health (BH) workforce has been no exception. The novel coronavirus and ongoing pandemic have wrought tremendous personal loss, job and/or income insecurity, and forced isolation from family and other social supports on nearly all of us, and the BH workforce has had to grapple with these life stressors in tandem with their ongoing commitment to continue serving clients. Even in less historic and unprecedented times, the BH sector has had to reckon with compassion fatigue, burnout, vicarious trauma and high employment turnover. The pandemic’s compounding effect on the BH workforce has presented a stark need to help those that make up the “helping” professions, and to do so via non-traditional workplace training modalities that focused primarily on individual self-care.
From its unique vantage as a network organization serving over sixty community-based BH provider agencies in NYC, Coordinated Behavioral Care (CBC), Inc. and its Training Institute (TI) saw an opportunity and sensed an obligation to pilot a new self-care training series that could broadly reach NYS’s mental health professionals. In January 2021, CBC and its partner CBHS, received a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) COVID-19 Emergency Grant, through OMH, with funding that would support a new array of self-care trainings for NYS frontline BH workforce impacted by COVID-19. As demand and attendance soared, CBC TI sought and secured further funding from the New York State Health Foundation (NYSHealth) to broaden this work to serve Peers/Peer Specialists and staff in congregate settings that may work less traditional hours.
CBC TI leveraged these funds to build partnerships with self-care experts that haven’t historically had tremendous visibility within the BH sector. For instance, CBC TI partnered with the Kripalu Center in Massachusetts—an internationally renowned yoga and meditation retreat center—to bring their mindfulness and holistic wellness offerings to the NYS BH workforce, free of charge. Kripalu’s RISE program is a six-week, evidence-based mindfulness and meditation skill building training designed to meet the needs of healthcare providers by fostering greater clarity and resilience, improved situational awareness and work/life integration that can promote superior long-term performance for individuals and organizations.
The RISE sessions ultimately served over 300 staff from 87 unique BH agencies between February and June 2021. Attendee feedback was overwhelmingly positive. One participant commented, “I was able to make room in my schedule to attend the 6-week Kripalu Rise Series and have to say that it was one of the best virtual trainings I’ve attended in a very long time. It sadly ended today but I wanted to share my gratitude for offering this to the CBC network as part of the SAMSHA funds. If given the opportunity, I hope this is offered again as I’d love to see my fellow staff and colleagues, who are the helpers and healers of the communities we service, take advantage of the training.” Another participant stated, “phenomenal experience—exceptional facilitation and exercises.”
In addition, CBC TI set out to introduce the BH workforce to other modalities of non-traditional healing, including “Reiki,” a therapeutic energy practice that originated in Japan. According to the International Center for Reiki Training, the practice is based on the idea that we all have an unseen “life force energy” flowing through our bodies and is practiced to promote relaxation, reduce anxiety, manage pain and dislodge depression. CBC TI partnered with two Reiki masters, each of whom introduced the practice and guided participants through techniques on how to use their own hands to self-administer Reiki. Many participants found these groups quite supportive and were thankful for the opportunity to become familiar with this technique.
CBC TI is currently offering beginner yoga sessions and has partnered with NYC’s Integral Yoga Institute (IYI) to provide healthy cooking and sound healing courses in the coming months. Without access to healthful foods, people living in “food deserts” may be at higher risk of diet-related conditions—such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The healthy cooking course is intended to present participants with information on how to cook nutritious and appetizing meals for themselves and their families. Meanwhile, the sound healing course will introduce participants to Tibetan singing bowls, which produce sounds that are thought to promote relaxation, and promote healing, and are regularly used in meditation practices and yoga. IYI will also be offering yoga sessions for individuals suffering from long- term COVID symptoms or insomnia and a course on visualization. CBC is thrilled to bring IYI’s expertise to NYS BH providers.
CBC was proud to usher in a roster of trainings on modalities of self-care that would not have been otherwise readily available for NYS BH providers due to cost and availability in their communities. It was our mission to bring non-traditional practices such as yoga and meditation to our workforce so that they could begin implementing lifelong practices to support their wellbeing, with the hope that the benefits of such practices would trickle down to the participants that they serve. When BH providers are practicing good self-care, they are better equipped to help people on their caseloads. CBC TI knows that together, we can foster a community of self-invested learners to help reduce feelings of isolation and burnout that many providers are enduring in these extraordinary times. In so doing, CBC TI is building its own legacy of a COVID-19 “silver lining.”
Emily Grossman, MA, CPRP, is Training Director, at the CBC Training Institute. Amanda Semidey, LCSW, is Vice President, Care Coordination Services at CBC. Please email us at CBCTrainingInstitute@cbcare.org for more information and also check out our website.