What Helps the Helpers? Responding to Staff Care Needs in Fragile Contexts

2016 - 2020 / Project team: Prof. Dr. Phil C. Langer, Aisha-Nusrat Ahmad
First funding phase: Prof. Dr. Angela Kühner, Drew Mazyck, Marcella McNulty
Second funding phase: Dr. Frank Schumann, Ulrike Auge, Silan Derin, Beyhan Bozkurt, Shereen Abdelnabi

Funding: Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ); Regional Program Psychosocial Support for Syrian and Iraqi Refugees and IDPs

Project outline

Humanitarian aid organizations working in contexts of crisis and conflict face a multitude of challenges. Among those are the challenges that staff working in the field of mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) encounter in their everyday work with refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs). While there is a large and rapidly growing body of research on the mental health situation of refugees and IPDs, the impact and the consequences for helpers in the field of mental health and psychosocial support has received late and comparatively less attention. However, there has been increasing recognition that staff working in fragile contexts are highly burdened and that humanitarian institutions are responsible, not only for the protection of their staff’s physical integrity, but also for the protection of their psychological wellbeing. The "What helps the helpers?"-project aims at bridging this significant gap in research by developing concepts and methods for effective and contextualized staff care that at the same time take into account the complex psychosocial realities of humanitarian aid work. The main research question of the project thus is as follows: How can organizations working in MHPSS in the context of crisis and conflict support and protect the psychological wellbeing of their staff?

The "What helps the Helpers?"-project answers this question by cooperating closely with non-government organizations (NGOs) in four countries that are acutely affected by the ongoing Syrian crisis: Jordan, Lebanon, (Northern) Iraq and Turkey. The research is carried out in two distinct phases. In the first phase of the project, a framework was developed to assess the needs and challenges that MHPSS-workers face: the REST-tool. In a two-day workshop, the REST-tool allows for a reconstruction of the main psychosocial challenges in the specific political and social context the organization works in. This phase was completed by the end of 2018 and was immediately followed by the second phase of research. The second phase further expands the scope of the project by developing and evaluating a one-year intervention that aims at establishing sustainable staff care structures in four NGOs in Turkey, Jordan, Northern Iraq and Lebanon. By mid-2020, the research will be documented in manuals for conducting sustainable and contextualized staff-care interventions that will be made available to NGOs and interested groups working in the Middle East.

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