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Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Frequently Asked Questions Banner

Frequently Asked Questions

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    Q. What is the critical incident stress management program?
    A.

    • Corps personnel having an organized approach to cope with stress in the workplace.
    • Peers helping peers with day-to-day stressors and high stress environments.
    • Peers knowing when and how to intervene in crisis situations.

    The program provides an organized approach to cope with both general work stressors and crisis situations. Components of the program include: one-on-one peer counseling, routine peer support/team building meetings, crisis intervention group meetings (defusings), and critical incident stress debriefings.

    Q. What is stress?
    A. Stress is the "wear and tear" our bodies experience as we adjust to our continually changing environment; stress has physical and emotional effects on us and can create positive or negative feelings. As a positive influence, stress can help compel us to action; it can result in a new awareness and an exciting new perspective. As a negative influence, it can result in feelings of distrust, rejection, anger, and depression, which in turn can lead to health problems such as headaches, upset stomach, rashes, insomnia, ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. With the death of a loved one, the birth of a child, a job promotion, or a new relationship, we experience stress as we readjust our lives. In so adjusting to different circumstances, stress will help or hinder us depending on how we react to it.

    Q. Can CISM eliminate stress from my life?
    A. No. The goal of the CISM program is not to eliminate stress, but to learn how to manage it and how to use it to help us. Insufficient stress acts as a depressant and may leave us feeling bored or dejected; on the other hand, excessive stress may leave us feeling "tied up in knots." What we need to do is find the optimal level of stress that will individually motivate but not overwhelm each of us.

    Q. Can CISM help me manage stress better?
    A. Yes. But, identifying unrelieved stress and being aware of its effect on our lives is not sufficient for reducing its harmful effects. Just as there are many sources of stress, there are many possibilities for its management. However, all require work toward change: changing the source of stress and/or changing your reaction to it. Here are some important tips:

    • Become aware of your stressors and your emotional and physical reactions - don't ignore problems!
    • Recognize what you can change - you know what you can and cannot change.
    • Reduce the intensity of your emotional reactions to stress - relax and think.
    • Learn to moderate your physical reactions to stress.
    • Build your physical reserves - exercise, walk, eat right, maintain a good weight.
    • Maintain your emotional reserves - maintain support relationships like friendships.

    Q. What is a critical incident?
    A. A critical incident can be defined as any incident which adversely affects you or your family or any event during which the sights, smells, or sounds are so vivid as to cause an increase of stress or stress reactions either immediately following the incident or on a delayed basis. Some samples of these types of incidents are:

    • Being the victim of an attack involving deadly force.
    • Serious on-duty injury to yourself or another.
    • A particularly unusual or gruesome injury or the death of a child or elderly person under unusually tragic circumstances.
    • A serious injury to yourself or a family member.
    • Divorce, separation, or a child custody dispute.
    • Lawsuits or internal investigations.
    • Any incident outside of our normal range of experience.

    Remember - the effects of an incident will vary from one person to another. That which is traumatic for one may not be for another. Stress from a critical incident cannot be prevented. It is the result of your exposure to the trauma of the incident. It can, however, be recognized and managed to the point of healthy recovery and eventual healing after the incident. It is vital that each person who has experienced a critical incident realize that their recovery and healing are linked to first recognizing the effects of the trauma upon them.

    Q. What are some signs or symptoms of critical incidents?
    A. Individuals react differently to critical incidents and they may or may not experience some or all of the following symptoms. If you do recognize any of the symptoms listed below, don't worry. Your own reactions are normal and very appropriate in response to your critical incident experience.

    • Re-experiencing the event
    • Flashbacks
    • Nightmares
    • Difficulty sleeping
    • Exhaustion or hyperactivity
    • Guilt
    • Depression or anxiety
    • Anger or irritability
    • Marital or family problems
    • Numbing, withdrawal, or isolation
    • Decline in job performance
    • Memory loss or confusion
    • Loss of appetite and/or nausea
    • Uncontrollable emotions

    Q. How can I learn to deal with critical incidents?
    A. Here are some suggestions and tips on how to deal with Critical Incidents.

    • Alternate strenuous exercise and relaxation for the first 24-48 hours after the incident.
    • Keep busy. Structure your time. Be with people, especially those who have "been there."
    • Remember that your reactions are normal and expected. Don't label yourself as "crazy" or "weak."
    • Keep your life as routine as possible. Avoid making any big life-changing decisions. However, you should make a lot of small choices about your daily life; this will return a sense of being back in control to you.
    • Avoid alcohol and drug usage. Any relief that is felt will be short-lived and your feelings afterwards will be more extreme than before.
    • Give yourself permission to feel rotten.
    • Watch your diet. You should avoid sugars and caffeine. Eat regular, balanced meals. Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.
    • Realize that others have gone through this before and have felt the same way you are feeling now. Don't hesitate to call a trusted and experienced peer anytime you need to talk

    Q. Who are the peer supporters?
    A. Peer supporters are colleagues who have volunteered to participate in the CISM program. They have received training for certification as peer supporters. They represent all levels of Corps personnel, as well as personnel from other departments.

    Q. What do peer supporters do?
    A. Peer supporters understand the stress of the work environment. They want to listen and be of help to peers who need or want the opportunity to talk. Peer supporters value trust, and they respect the need for anonymity and confidentiality. Communication between a peer supporter and a peer is considered confidential, except for those matters that involve a life threat or a violation of the law.

    Q. What types of problems do peer supporters address?
    A. Peer supporters are trained to do initial crisis intervention for many types of problems. Some of the more common issues are work-related, such as dealing with the death of a drowning victim, or victims of natural disasters. Other issues may be more personal, such as divorce, illness, disability, career concerns, family relationships, or financial difficulties. When peer supporters identify that additional or professional counseling is needed, appropriate referrals are made through the Corps Employee Assistance Program (EAP). If and when several employees are adversely affected by the same event, the CISM program offers group interventions.

    Q. How is the CISM program connected with EAP?
    A. Employees have the option of visiting the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at any time they choose. The CISM program can be seen as a connecting bridge or a band-aid between the employees and the EAP services. The CISM program and EAP work together closely to help you.

    Q. What are some specific examples of how the CISM Peer Support process and the Employee Assistance Program are different?
    A. Comparisons:

    • Peer support is an immediate, short term intervention that is designed to last no more than 2-3 visits at a maximum. The EAP often is more of a long term action that may often consist of 12 or more visits.
    • The emphasis of CISM and peer support is placed upon prevention and education whereas the employee assistance program is based upon treatment. CISM is an extensive multi-tactic program with the flexibility to support employees as they carry out the Corps many challenging global missions.
    • The advantages of CISM is its immediacy and proximity to an occurrence of a critical incident. That is to say, the program is able to provide an almost immediate tactical intervention at the field level. These interventions can be provided often in less than 24 hours following notification. EAP services are typically provided in a clinical setting and often take days to access.
    • The CISM program offers peer credibility and empathy. For example, who understands better what another Corps employee might be experiencing than a peer? The present EAP program is underutilized by employees. CISM has the potential to enable and steer more employees to seek help from the EAP.

    Q. Who can become a peer supporter?
    A. Certification courses are typically offered annually. Enrollment is voluntary, with approval from a supervisor, and contingent upon acceptance into the program. Peer supporters may be at a variety of grades and professional disciplines in order to ensure a broad-based application to employees in varying job series, functions, and locations. Application forms may be obtained from the program directors.

    Q. How can the program benefit management?
    A. CISM represents a powerful, yet cost-effective approach to crisis response. It can be adapted and used effectively in a variety of business and industrial settings. As critical incidents cover the spectrum of distressing human experiences, swift and early preventive mitigation of traumatic impact can serve management by improving an employee's general sense of well-being, productivity, attendance, and long-term costs associated with Workman's Compensation benefits.

    Q. How can the program help me, the employee?
    A. Individuals can become 'stressed out' through pressures of work or problems at home. So, instead of reaching for the tranquillizers or sick leave, as happened in the past, we can now reach for the assistance of a co-worker - to make contact with a peer supporter.

    Q. What kind of feedback has been received from the SWD test?
    A. During the first year of operation, CISM responded to a total of 44 employees at an average cost of $140.90 per employee. Incidents that peer supporters responded to included a catastrophic highway bridge collapse, a coworker suicide, an unforeseen employee workplace death, and public fatalities involving drowning, suicide, and vehicle accidents. Numerous positive comments have been received from employees concerning the CISM program over that time period. Not one negative or unsupportive comment has been received during this test period.

    Q. What agencies are already using CISM peer support?
    A.

    • American/International Red Cross
    • National Park Service (NPS)
    • Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
    • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
    • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
    • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
    • Motorola Communications
    • United Auto Workers
    • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
    • U.S. Department of Defense (Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard)
    • Department of Agriculture
    • Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
    • Martin Marietta Corporation
    • Various police and emergency management response agencies
    • Private airline companies
 
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    Updated: August 2014