Pilot study of a brief psychological intervention for reducing emotional exhaustion and secondary traumatic stress among physicians of intensive care units in Mexico

Jennifer E. Moreno-Jiménez, María del Carmen Yeo-Ayala, Andrés Palomera, Luis Manuel Blanco-Donoso, Raquel Rodríguez-Carvajal, Eva Garrosa, Bernardo Moreno-Jiménez

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17711/SM.0185-3325.2020.030


Introduction. Physicians of Intensive Care Units (ICU) have a potential risk to develop negative outcomes such as emotional exhaustion and secondary traumatic stress (STS). Specifically, job demands in these units (i.e., work stressors and emotional effort) may positively predict these outcomes, whereas personal resources such as harmonious passion and self-compassion may diminish them.

Objetive. To design a specific intervention for physicians in ICU and provide preliminary evidence of its effectiveness.

Method. A brief intervention of five weekly sessions (two hour-sessions) was carried out with four physicians in ICU in a hospital in Mexico. Other four physicians were selected as a control group. The intervention was aimed at reducing emotional exhaustion and STS by increasing harmonious passion and self-compassion, and diminishing the emotional effort.

Results. The intervention group showed a significant reduction in: a) work stressors (2/4 physicians; RCI = .21); emotional effort (1/4 physicians; (RCI = .60); emotional exhaustion (2/4 physicians; RCI = .34); and STS (3/4 physicians; RCI = .26). One physician experienced a significant increase in harmonious passion (RCI = 1.00), but the intervention seems to maintain high levels of this and self-compassion in comparison with the control group. The control group showed a worse result in its outcomes.

Discussion and conclusion. Despite the limitations, this study provides preliminary evidence for effectively reducing emotional exhaustion and STS. Our findings highlight the individual analysis of the effective tools per physician and address interventions focused on harmonious passion and self-compassion. This study calls for future research concerning intervention proposals in ICU with follow-up measures to diminish the negative consequences in the long-term.


Keywords: Physicians; intensive care units; intervention; harmonious passion; self-compassion; emotional effort

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