Chapter 3: Working with your vulnerabilities

Working with our vulnerabilities

It really helps when someone says that they tried their best and that they are sorry for the outcome. There needs to be more compassion in intensive care”. - Family member

Many clinicians wonder if they should show emotion in their interactions with patients and families. Some worry that expressing emotion will impact their ability to function at a high level of competence or erode the confidence a family has in them.

The answer may be on a case-by-case basis that relies heavily on clinical judgment. Clinicians will need to maintain some sense of distance while remaining empathetic and connected. In this way, the occasional and genuine emotion (such as shedding a tear) may help build trust as opposed to prevent it. Anecdotally, families usually appreciate that the death meant something to the team as well.

Attending to the emotions that come with vicarious trauma is necessary and takes effort. It can be easy for clinicians to enter a cycle of blaming themselves for not having what it takes to do their job when the symptoms of vicarious trauma arise. Instead of entering a cycle of self-doubt, focus your energies on the suggestions below.