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Resilient Responders: Self-Efficacy

Dr. James D. Guy
Executive Director & Cofounder, Headington Institute, 2014.


Not surprisingly, both our field experience and ongoing research show that emergency responders who feel competent and prepared are the most resilient in a crisis.  The experienced superstars often bounce back quickly.  Evidently, being good at your job enables you to handle whatever comes with confidence, optimism, and determination.  Even when facing a novel, unexpected situation, those who are well trained and self-assured are most likely to respond effectively and recover more quickly.

This is what motivates responders to practice, practice, practice until their actions and decisions become automatic.  Most emergency response organizations understand this and devote considerable resources and time to drills and rehearsals.  The result is skilled responders who are adaptive and better able to adjust to adversity and unanticipated challenges, hallmarks of personal resilience.

Anything you can do to increase your sense of self-efficacy will build your personal resilience in preparation for whatever is ahead.

What is less understood is the importance of real-time coaching and feedback in maintaining resilience during an emergency response.  Ongoing contact, however brief, with mentors and supervisors increases both confidence and competence in the midst of a crisis situation.  The opportunity to ask questions, solicit input, and receive reassurance from trusted colleagues increases self-efficacy.  It is important to keep in touch with coworkers throughout a critical incident.  This will promote your resilience and enable you to renew your efforts to handle responsibilities in the worst of situations.

After the emergency is over, debriefing with colleagues about your successes and failures facilitates learning.  More importantly, sharing vulnerable feelings with someone you trust can promote healing and recovery.  This gives the brain a chance to sort through upsetting images and memories, prioritize and resolve what’s important, and file away the rest.

After a critical incident is also a good time to review information about normal reactions to trauma, to reassure yourself and others that you’re OK and will return to normal soon.  The increased self-efficacy that results will promote your resilience.

Because of the direct link between feelings of competence and the ability to be resilient during and after a tough situation, it’s worth learning all you can about your job responsibilities.  But don’t stop there – be sure to keep in touch with coworkers both during and after an emergency response.  This will help repair your brain, rebuild your confidence, and return your personal resilience to its prior level.


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