Mitigating Psychological Distress Among Humanitarian Staff Working With Migrants and Refugees: A Case Example


  • Kristen L. Guskovict Humanitarian Empathy and Refugee Trauma (HEART) of Aid Work, KLG Consulting Services
  • Miriam Potocky School of Social WorkFlorida International University



Humanitarian workers, refugee, migrant, self-care, stress management, Greece


Ongoing acute stress in humanitarian work leads to psychological distress among humanitarian workers. Stress management within humanitarian agencies requires responses at both the individual staff member and agency levels. Stress management is often conceptualized in four categories: stress that can be accepted; stress that can be altered; stress to which individuals can adapt; and stress that can be avoided. Humanitarian workers accept the stress created by the environment in which they choose to work. They can manage stress by altering their own behaviors through improved communication skills and the implementation of self-care plans. They can adapt, with the help of staff care plans such as counseling and peer support, to the stress created by their own histories of trauma or mental illness. The stress created by the workplace can be avoided. However, without a comprehensive support plan for mitigating psychological distress, both the individual humanitarian worker and the agency overall suffer. This article reviews current literature regarding the impact of avoidable stress and the impact of adaptation programs such as staff care and stress management plans on humanitarian work, and illustrates these impacts with a case example from the Danish Refugee Council, an international non-governmental organization with approximately 300 employees working in Greece.


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