Stress, burnout and wellbeing are important topics that usually take a back seat with activists, case workers and members of marginalised communities.
TARSHI has consistently integrated initiatives on stress management and burnout prevention into its programmes, for internal teams as well as clients/callers/other NGOs etc., for over two decades.
Maintaining the focus in this area has resulted in building a base of knowledge and engagement both within the organisation and externally, on a journey of critical learning. These experiences led TARSHI to advocate for the importance of counsellor self-care from the beginning. The organisation has had a strong component of Burnout Prevention as part of helpline counsellor in-house trainings from the early years and has reached out to other individuals and organisations in social services and rights work to focus on this aspect of sustainability.
The story of our stress management and burnout prevention journey
When we began our work in 1996 as a helpline on sexuality, offering information, counselling and referrals on various issues related to sexuality. Our team of counsellors answered over 60,000 calls in the 13 years that the helpline was operational. We were aware that counsellors on any issue, but especially on sexuality – from a perspective that affirmed an individual’s right to pleasure – were few, and those who were qualified and/or trained by us, worked under tremendous pressure. Pressure to fill an enormous gap in need for such services, but while living in societies that considered (and still do) sexuality as taboo or unimportant in the greater scheme of “issues” people faced. Pressure answering questions on these topics in a rights-affirming manner, while, in some cases, not being able to reflect the same in their lives, for a variety of reasons. We recognised early on that these are factors that could lead our team to burnout, and incorporated a range of methods to manage stress and prevent burnout, and build in policies to address staff wellbeing.
We are delighted to see a growing acknowledgment of stress management and burnout prevention, especially among those of us who do people work, but the conversations are still far and few between, and are often only from an instrumentalist perspective, i.e. “one needs to manage stress so that one can be productive”. We believe in self-care and wellbeing as a right, and as a feminist issue, considering that stress management is not given its due among women and other communities marginalised due to their gender, sexual identity, profession, class, caste or disability status.
At TARSHI, we have been consistently facilitating the creation of safe spaces, the teaching of a variety of simple tools, and sharing of process guidance, of use to an individual, organisation, or community for the practice of stress management, burnout prevention and self-care in order to sustain wellbeing.
Here are highlights from our work on self-care, wellbeing, stress management and burnout prevention:
2021: TARSHI launched Reflect, Realign, Renew: Manage stress and keep burnout away, an eCourse on stress management and burnout prevention. The short eCourse is designed to help learners conceptually understand stress and burnout and locate their unique causes of stress at the individual, institutional and systemic levels.
We collaborated with Nazariya and Kriti Film Club on the film festive Me, We, Us, based on our work with Nazariya since 2018-19 on stress management and burnout prevention of activists and case workers. Watch the films here.
2020: We held a series of online workshops for the staff of Feminism in India and Nirantar on stress management, burnout prevention, self-care and collective care. The workshops encouraged participants to reflect on their sources of stress, on why self-care is political, and on how organisations can conceive of collective care strategies for staff wellbeing.
We also regularised weekly online team self-care activities for our team members, exploring a range of stress management techniques.
2018-19: We conducted three needs assessment workshops focusing on stress management and burnout prevention, organised collaboratively by TARSHI and Nazariya in 2018 and 2019, at Delhi, Guwahati and at Hyderabad. Participants’ responses and the takeaway from these workshops is crucial to a qualitative and intuitive understanding of need and have been set out in this report in great detail. Read the report here.
2015-16: After the devastating earthquakes in Nepal in 2015, TARSHI conducted a workshop for participants from WOREC. In 2016, we conducted a workshop on identifying, preventing and addressing burnout, for ACCESS-UNHCR Livelihood Initiative for Refugees. Participants at these workshops were introduced to Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) to manage stress, as well as to other methods of self-care.
2012: TARSHI and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) South Asia Regional Office (SARO) collaborated on a regional initiative to strengthen the capacity of counsellors and service providers working in SRH (Sexual and Reproductive Health). We prepared a training manual on integrated counselling, including specific training components on Stress, Burnout and Self-care as they relate to counselling skills and service provision.
2003-05: TARSHI hosted the very first National Meeting of Helplines in February 2003, which was followed by a second National Meeting, hosted by CHILDLINE India Foundation (CIF) in August 2003. The National Helpline Network was established as a collaborative effort between CIF and TARSHI in the same year. Taking this work forward, in 2005 TARSHI organised a National Meeting of Helpline Organisations on Burnout Prevention, bringing together helplines working in suicide prevention, family counselling, sexuality, children in distress, drug rehabilitation, cancer support, and HIV and AIDS. The meeting provided a platform for helplines to discuss practical and cost-effective strategies to address and prevent burnout in their organisations.
1996-2009: TARSHI ran a bilingual telephone helpline that provided information, counselling and referrals on sexuality, sexual and reproductive health. We got over 60,000 calls from people on general sexuality information, to contraception, abortion, sexual identity, coercive sexual experiences, lack of pleasure in sex, relationship issues and more. Counsellors were trained in-house through a rigourous 12-week process which included inputs on information, perspective-building and skills. The latter also included self-awareness and burnout prevention strategies, at a time when these topics were not as well-recognised as today!