Training before tragedy: empathy and trauma in the claims process

June 16, 2022

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By guest author, Dr. Raymond Shelton

Foreword by Mike Leslie, VP of sales, temporary housing, Sedgwick

After a property loss, many insureds experience trauma as they work through the stages of grief for their damaged home, precious family heirlooms or priceless photos. Processing the loss can take time and may interfere with the ability to make sound decisions while navigating their claim.

Learning to identify trauma and respond productively fosters a better claims experience for both adjusters and insureds. Dr. Raymond Shelton is an expert in traumatic stress management and leads training courses for Sedgwick colleagues and the industry at large — helping them manage the stress associated with handling claims.

Read on for more insight from Dr. Raymond Shelton:

When a property adjuster is assigned to a home insurance claim, they are responsible for putting a monetary value on what most people consider irreplaceable: their home and the items in it. Showing empathy through tone, word choice, presence and other forms of communication can make as much of an impact on the claims experience as the actual settlement. That’s why it’s critical for those in the industry to understand how to identify trauma among insureds and approach each situation with empathy.

Tip of the iceberg

In the midst of surveying a home that was tragically hit by a tornado in Birmingham, Alabama, one adjuster kept a close eye on the owners’ well-being. Had he not been trained to recognize the other factors at play, he wouldn’t have uncovered that, within the last six months, the husband was diagnosed with cancer, the wife was diagnosed with lupus, and the couple said goodbye to their beloved dog. To say the homeowners had a lot to contend with up to that point is an understatement.

The seemingly unrelated challenges facing this couple in the months leading up to the loss of their home provide important context to the claims process and their overall experience. The assigned adjuster was primed and prepared to help them navigate whatever obstacles came their way — whether it was finding temporary housing while their home was undergoing repairs or simply providing peace of mind and encouragement and maintaining an optimistic mindset.

Caring for others, caring for yourself

Much like those who work in emergency services, property adjusters are considered the first responders of the claims world. When most people turn away from the devastation of the disaster zone, they head in to assess the damage. They spend countless hours, and sometimes weeks or months, away from their own homes so they can support those in crisis. Witnessing tragedy day after day can have a cumulative, debilitating effect on anyone engaged in the claims process. And it doesn’t take long for the stress that accompanies that level of responsibility to manifest itself. Keeping your mind and body healthy, despite the knowledge that another storm is on the horizon and another phone call is on the way, can be difficult. This may include giving yourself permission to ask for help, learning to let go of negativity and setting reasonable expectations for what you hope to achieve.

Just as we encourage adjusters to lead with empathy when working with insureds, we promote the same when it comes to self-care. By increasing mental health awareness and training people on handling traumatic stress in the field and beyond, they are better equipped to take care of people — including themselves — when it matters most.

About our guest author:

Dr. Raymond Shelton provides consultation, development, and training in stress management, crisis, trauma and violence. He is a fellow and director of professional development with the National Center for Crisis Management, American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, and serves on the Board of Scientific and Professional Advisory for the Institute for Traumatic Stress. Dr. Shelton has authored several books and is an international conference presenter. Dr. Shelton has authored several books and is an international conference presenter including PLRB National Claims Conference since 2004.

Sedgwick’s property experts assist customers with all types of property claims — from the most complex losses to everyday commercial and residential claims. Our solutions are designed to protect investments and provide a high level of care as we restore property across all areas of coverage, including motor, marine, aviation and transportation. To learn more, visit our website.

Tags: caring, Caring counts, caring culture, Cat Insights, CAT response, Claims, Empathy, Property, Property claims, Property loss, temporary housing, Training, trauma, View on people, View on property, Wellness