Nancy Szastkiw

First Responders Trauma Prevention and Recovery

As a counsellor, Nancy Szastkiw brings extensive experience working with those in crisis to our First Responders Trauma Prevention and Recovery program.

In addition to working with military members and their families, she serves as a grief counsellor for addicts and sex trade workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. As an emergency services volunteer with Health Management BC, she also coordinates a team of emotional wellness practitioners to support those impacted by disaster, including first responders.

We asked her to share her thoughts on her course on Relationship Building

How does your work with first responders differ from your work with other groups or individuals?

In my military work, there are first responders who are also military reservists. There are similarities with military and paramilitary cultures. With both cultures, brevity is a common denominator. There are more acronyms with first responders than with other individuals in the civilian world.

Why do you think your course on relationship building is important for first responders? 

This course can be a challenge, as it takes the skills of brevity, objectivity and quick decision-making and says, “Hold up.” These skills are what can make a capable first responder; however, like a double-edged sword, it can overshadow other skills needed, such as patience, vulnerability and being non-judgemental. Stepping into peer support requires what some may say are the skills one tries to avoid. The irony is that vulnerability is courage. Empathy is a skill to be learned, not avoided.

What has been the response from your students?

In the early modules, some of the assignments end with, “How was it for you to do the assignment?” The responses were varied, as it involves stepping out of a comfort zone. Some have thanked me for reminding them that reaching out is more than handing out a brochure or a phone number. Those receptive to stepping out of a comfort zone and approaching someone they don’t know, grew from the course.

What do you most hope students will take away from the course?

I hope those who take the course remember that relationship with self is key to relationships with others. We can draw support from a wide circle and should remember that people are hardwired to want to help. We’re all waiting to be asked.

Who do you think can benefit most from your course? 

Everyone can benefit. I think anyone who sees things out of the ordinary on a regular basis, who has a partner/team/fire buddy, needs this course. Anyone who notices they or someone around them gets quiet or starts to isolate needs this course. Anyone who understands compassion, empathy and courage and vulnerability and would like to model these more in their personal and professional lives can benefit from this course.