July 15, 2024

Archive Event Highlight

OPC and IWMF Host Psychological Safety and Resilience Training

by Chad Bouchard

Ana Zellhuber, a psychoanalyst and Emergency Psychology specialist based in Mexico City, warned journalists during a program on March 2 that while it’s very easy to avoid taking care of your mental and emotional health, the cost of doing so is very high.

“If you don’t consciously, willingly take care of yourself, at the end of the day you’re going to end up not feeling well and not giving to the world what you want to give,” she said during a training session on fostering psychological safety and resilience in the face of trauma in the course of practicing journalism. “An empty glass cannot give you water,” she added.

The OPC and the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) co-sponsored the program, which was aimed at women and nonbinary journalists, and their allies. The program was supported by the Committee to Protect Journalists, Rory Peck Trust and the ACOS Alliance.

Zellhuber’s presentation covered topics such as the importance of mental health care during and after trauma, the consequences of ignoring it, self-evaluation, a relaxation exercise, threat assessment for journalists targeted by online violence, and steps for developing an emotional safety plan.

She walked participants through a process for evaluating online threats, with a questionnaire and a checklist to weigh whether the threat is merely “trolling” for a reaction or a more serious physical threat. Threats from people who are members of extremist groups, for example, have a higher risk factor. The inclusion of sexual threats or comments about gender, ethnicity or sexuality also add to the level of risk. Frequent, generalized messages from the same source might indicate trolling behavior, while specific threats that include personal information should raise more red flags.

Zellhuber’s worksheet on threat assessment can be found here: Evaluating the Threat from Online Abusers.

She said she often finds that the journalists she provides therapy to often put themselves last when it comes to giving care, and this is compounded for journalists who are women or nonbinary.

“If you belong to a nonbinary community and if you are a woman, unfortunately you have another reason for this to happen, because society and family members have told you so many times that ‘you’re not worth [taking care of yourself]. You don’t deserve this.’ And sometimes I hear that ‘I don’t have time for myself.’ What’s behind it is that you don’t believe you’re worth it.”

Zellhuber asked participants to recall a time when they coped with a risky or emotionally moving situation, and then asked what they might have done differently. Carrying maps of a location with exit routes identified, for example, or looking for places to shelter, are good practices for conflict or disaster situations, she said. She also underscored the importance of working on an emotional safety plan, which she outlined in five steps: assessing your current emotional state and how an upcoming assignment might affect you; thinking through sensations you’re likely to encounter; examining the emotions that might arise; identifying possible challenges to your integrity; and how you will process the experience afterward.

“Have something at the end of the night that gives you balance,” Zellhuber said, like dancing to a favorite song or playing a game with friends. “Yes, life can be awful and messy and violent. But life is also beautiful and happy and joyful.”

You can find links to other helpful PDF guides and other resources referenced during the program below:

• Mental Health Self-Evaluation Chart for Journalists Targeted by Online Violence

• Diaphragmatic Breathing

• Here is a mental health guide she wrote for the IWMF.

• The IWMF offers a wide range of emergency assistance for journalists including therapy funding.

• The ACOS Alliance has a Psychological Safety Guide.

• The Journalist Trauma Support Network (JTSN) has a JTSN Directory listing trauma psychotherapists in the U.S. who have completed the JTSN training in working with journalist occupational stress and trauma.

• Rory Peck Trust has a Therapy Fund which covers the cost of treatment for freelance journalists to access professional psychological support.

Click the window below to watch a playlist of video clips from the program.