The perspectives and experiences of paramedics who have used employer funded counselling
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This study uses an interpretive descriptive methodology to interpret and describe the perspectives and experience of paramedics who have accessed employer funded counselling. The intention of this research is to develop an understanding of when and why paramedics access counselling services, the barriers and enablers to accessing this service and the extent to which it meets their needs. A purposive sampling strategy was used to recruit a non-generalisable sample of New Zealand paramedics (including intensive care paramedics) that had used counselling. Ten paramedics participated in this study. Data collection occurred through in-depth, semi structured interviews that were undertaken by the researcher. The data was analysed using Braun and Clark’s six-step thematic analysis. The thematic analysis brought forward four main themes which have been presented to represent the organic order of the counselling experience. These themes are: precipitating stress factors, catalysts for action, barriers to access and being the client. This study revealed that it was challenging for paramedics to access counselling due to a perception that it could be perceived as a sign of weakness and significant psychological injury by those they work with. Despite this perception, the experience for using counselling was worthwhile and beneficial for many of the participants. Counselling can assist paramedics with managing stress from the workplace as well as stress from outside of the workplace. Several practical barriers to access had negative implications on the ability of some paramedics to utilise the counselling service that was available to them. Paramedics in this study accessed counselling in a reactive manner and tended to use it as a last resort. The threshold for accessing counselling was particularly high and in many cases it was at a breaking point. This breaking point was often characterised by a significant deterioration to the mental health of the participants. It would be beneficial for paramedics to use counselling in a more proactive and ongoing way. For this to happen, ambulance organisations need to work to break down existing barriers to access and normalise the proactive use of counselling within their workforce. Accessing counselling and other psychological supports should be a routine part of safe paramedic practice. Improved use of counselling by paramedics involves accessing counselling before a crisis point and implementing counselling as a part of ongoing proactive wellness.