May 28, 2020Print | PDF
Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Social Work Assistant Professor Abdelfettah Elkchirid is fighting back against COVID-19 the best way he knows how – by offering support to those who need it.
An expert in international social work and trauma, Elkchirid recently delivered virtual workshops about secondary trauma, also known as compassion fatigue, to clinical and community social workers in Morocco. The workshops, held in late April and early May, were the result of cancelled travel plans to the North African country, where Elkchirid and Laurier colleagues were scheduled to collaborate on a project with the Moroccan Association of Social Workers.
When Elkchirid asked if he could assist the association in another way, he was answered with requests for support for social workers experiencing secondary trauma due to working on the frontline of COVID-19.
“There is a lot of fear and stress and social workers in Morocco have had little direction on to how to handle the pandemic,” says Elkchirid. “The workday can follow you home and you need healthy coping strategies in place to deal with your experiences.”
Elkchirid designed and delivered two workshops to address the specific needs of social work practitioners, who each face different realities on the job. Elkchirid's workshop for social workers in hospitals and clinics addressed protective measures to keep workers and patients safe, ethical obligations and advocacy, and asking critical questions in difficult situations.
“There was a lack of information about the virus and how to stay safe,” says Elkchirid. “In a time when so much is beyond our control, it’s critical to speak up and stay safe.”
A second workshop for social workers practising in community settings, such as private practices and out-patient programs, focused on coping with family expectations and delivering care in culturally relevant ways. Many Moroccan homes are multi-generational, which can add a layer of stress for practitioners who may unknowingly expose older members of households to the virus. Practising physical distancing during appointments is also challenging, as practitioners and clients traditionally sit in close proximity.
“Practitioners are facing concerns from family members about going to work while caring for their clients and trying to keep themselves safe,” says Elkchirid. “It’s very stressful.”
Journaling, connecting with others on social media and engaging in activities that bring joy are some of the coping strategies Elkchirid recommended to workshop participants. Consistently communicating workplace health and safety practices can also help ease the concerns of clients and family members who may lack information about the virus and its transmission.
As Canadians continue to fight COVID-19 at home, Elkchirid says countries like Morocco will require ongoing support.
“We are all facing the same thing, but there is a greater need for support in some parts of the world,” he says. “These are times to express solidarity and help others as much as possible.”
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