Stress management

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September 2005


The Staff Counsellor

The importance of providing psychosocial support to UN staff members during emergency and nonemergency situations has been well established and extensively documented in United Nations publications.However, the role and function of the counsellor was initially inadequately defined and insufficiently supported administratively. Activities were generally implemented informally by human resource and administrative officers rather than trained counsellors. These difficulties resulted in unsatisfactory service delivery, conflicts of interests, and problems with confidentiality. Many of theseissues were addressed during a 1984 Meeting of Staff Counsellors in which counsellors pointed out the need for harmonization of their terms of reference and expressed concern that their duties were overly broad (including a myriad of activities ranging from health insurance to education grants and housing) (ACC/1984/PER26).

The Emergence of the Security/Stress Management Paradigm

While theactivities of UN staff counsellors initially targeted human resource, administrative, and staff welfare issues, their roles and responsibilities changed in response to significant shifts in UN mandates and the operational environments in which UN staff worked.

In the late 1980’s and the 1990’s UN staff members were increasingly deployed to settings that were characterized by hostility (oftendirected at UN staff) and open warfare. The Brahimi Report retrospectively evaluates the manner in which these operational shifts have impacted UN policy and procedures and demonstrates the need for greater emphases on security and stress management (A/55/305-S2000/809).

The Office of the UN Security Coordinator was created in 1988 (A/55/494) and the paradigm of the counsellor as an emergencyservice provider within the UN security system emerged soon after. As a result of the hazardous work environments to which they were deployed, UN staff faced greater security threats and psychosocial risks. Security officers were compelled to offer informal counselling and rapidly realized the need to turn to the services of professional counsellors to look after staff affected by critical incidents.In this respect, the deployment of counsellors enhanced security operations.

In April 1993 (A/RES/47/226), the General Assembly requested further information regarding the manners in which the Organization was impacted by “traumatic and stressful security-related experiences.” In May 1994 (A/C.5/49/56) the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC) subsequently concluded:

…in view ofthe link between security incidents and critical-incident
stress the United Nations Security Coordinator should serve as the
focal point for developing a strategy to manage stress… there should
be a two-tiered strategy for stress management: preventive stress
management and critical-incident stress management.

Counselling interventions were found to facilitate the efficacy of securityresponses during emergencies. In September 1993, a stress counsellor was deployed following the death of a staff member in Nairobi resulting from a malicious act. In November 1993, a stress counsellor travelled to Burundi in response to a critical incident. In 1994, a team of counsellors were deployed to Nairobi to provide support to UN staff evacuated from Rwanda, and counsellors assisted UNSECOORDwith responding to the Swiss Air crash in 1998 (A/C.5/49/56). By September 2000, 198 civilian staff members had lost their lives while in service to the Untied Nations (A/55/94). This increase in the number of civilian deaths compelled the humanitarian community to make security and stress high priorities.

The importance of stress counselling within the security management sector has been...
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