The professor of social psychology at Sorbonne Paris Nord University, Pascale Molinier, discusses the importance of ethics in the care professions and the way in which the pandemic against which caregivers have been fighting for the past year has had a catalytic effect. .
How can the impossibility of providing ethical care lead to forms of exhaustion among caregivers?
Ethics are the very essence of care professions because it is about paying attention to others, taking into account their dignity.
However, it is psychologically very costly to do something with which you disagree, such as having to put aside ethics for lack of resources and personnel. You work for a living, but that’s not the only reason, it also gives meaning to your existence.
Caregivers are of course convinced of the usefulness of their profession, which is both motivating and guilty. Every morning when they get out of bed, they think about their individual responsibility, their place in their team, etc.
How can they cope?
Some caregivers choose to leave, a very difficult decision because it is akin to giving up. There is a movement of flight from the public hospital towards less degraded working conditions. Second way: overwork. In order to get the job done the way they want to, some caregivers devote more time and energy to their work. It is a form of activism that not everyone can wear depending on their family context. This can very easily lead to exhaustion, a very serious form of emotional breakdown.
Another path that caregivers can take is a defense against forms of suffering at work: they build rationalization processes to distance themselves from others. To cope, they then enter into a denial of their limits and vulnerability, as well as that of their patients. But denying one’s own vulnerability is tantamount to denying that of the people being treated because there is a very strong identification process in care. In this case, the risk of barbarism is very present, it is a very complicated psychic position to hold.
How does the pandemic crystallize these questions?
The pandemic has acted as a catalyst for severely degraded working conditions for years. It highlights them, for those who want to see it … What is worrying is that we do not see for the moment no political change. The question being to know until when, at the political level, the decision-makers will remain deaf to these observations. Are we ready to change the way we think about hospitals by listening to the expertise of caregivers and including them in the reflection on this transformation?