Protect your team against psychological injury

Psychological injury can happen as a result of severe stress or trauma. There are approaches to building resilience that make it less likely that psychological injury will be as severe in impact or duration. The strategies shared are intended to be part of team building or employee development activities and are not clinical in nature.

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What is psychological injury? Koch et al. (2005) defines it as “Stress-related emotional conditions resulting from real or imagined threats or injuries”.  

While some work is more likely to result in exposure to traumatic incidents – public safety personnel, complaint line staff, and addiction or mental health crisis counselors, for example – distressing events can happen to anyone who works with the public or where serious physical injuries could occur. In fact, an unexpected distressing event can happen at any workplace. 

A 2021 survey of 5500 working Canadians found that only 39% of respondents feel their employer has prepared them for the psychological demands of their job (Mental Health Research Canada, 2021).

Why is this a workplace responsibility?

In workplaces where there’s potential for physical injury, we take steps to eliminate or protect against the risk. This might involve safety training, equipment, rules and processes. In workplaces where there is potential for psychological injury, including trauma, we need to do better to eliminate or protect against this risk. Often the debilitating effect of psychological injury can be longer lasting than a physical injury, and impact every area of the individual's life. 

It may not be possible to avoid exposure to traumatic incidents. It’s possible to better prepare employees to process the experiences in a way that reduces the long-term, negative impact. 

The added value of providing psychological safety training is that it can help improve resilience overall, including coping better with both work and personal challenges. We provide several resources and strategies you can use yourself or with your team to help protect against the negative effects of exposure to trauma. 

You can use these protective strategies and free resources with your team.

Identify thoughts

Learning to identify our thoughts, rather than just allowing them to govern our emotions, is a first step. By understanding that our thoughts are not necessarily facts or helpful, we can intentionally question them. This sets us up to be able to replace problematic or ineffective thought processes with more objective and solution-focused thoughts, which in turn will help us better manage our emotions and behaviours. Name, claim and reframe: Personal stress tools is a suite of resources to help you facilitate a workshop with your employees that examines and supports understanding of this concept.

Manage emotions

Emotions are usually the result of thoughts about ourselves, our situation or about the motive of others. Knowing that our thoughts may not be accurate does not always prevent the emotions from arising. There are many ways to manage your emotions so that you can respond in a way that will be beneficial for you rather than in a way that is not. Taking the Emotional intelligence self-assessment can help with many strategies targeted at particular emotional needs. You can assign this to your entire group and ask only that they share their plan for improvement, without having to share their personal results.

Increase focus

Mindfulness is not necessarily Zen meditation. It is a way to experience the present moment without adding layers of emotions from either anxious thoughts about the future or regrets about the past. It avoids passing judgement on the situation or the people in it, but supports the ability to respond in a thoughtful way to whatever is happening. You can facilitate a simple activity like Progressive muscle relaxation to help your employees move away from their thoughts and emotions and become aware of the present moment. This can be especially helpful before an important meeting or discussion to bring participants into a less stressful space.

Improve coping strategies

Resilience is the ability to effectively manage what life throws at us. We all juggle personal, family, social, financial and work demands. Most of us do well, but any of us could be blindsided by an unexpected crisis or overwhelmed when stressors start to pile up. Sometimes what appears to be a crisis can lead to post-traumatic growth by helping us learn, evolve or choose a more positive path. The more resilient we are, the more likely we’ll be able to benefit in this way. The Plan for resilience is a tool that can help develop these skills.


  1. Koch, W. J., Douglas, K. S., Nicholls, T. L., & O'Neill, M. L. (2005). Psychological injuries: Forensic assessment, treatment, and law. Oxford University Press.
  2. Mental Health Research Canada. (2021). Psychological Health and Safety in Canadian Workplaces. Mental Health Research Canada.
  3. Nugent, N. R., Sumner, J. A., & Amstadter, A. B. (2014). Resilience after trauma: From surviving to thriving. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 5(1), 25339.
Contributors include.articlesDr. Joti SamraLindsay CrawfordMary Ann BayntonSarah JennerWorkplace Strategies team 2022 to present

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