Letting Go

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by Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC., RP

This is a post about transitions and making time for reflection.

And listening to podcasts.

Yes, it may seem like a strange combo, but stay with me for a sec.

I have been doing a lot of driving this summer: back and forth from my home to the cottage to deal with a septic tank (oh yes, my life is full of glamour), one trip to visit my sister and her gorgeous new baby, one to drop off my son and his buddies on their back-country camping adventure and then to bring them home four days later (the car slightly less fragrant on the way back) and two trips for memorial services and major events in our extended family.

For some of those trips, I wasn’t in a huge rush, and I decided to take some country roads to break it up and skip our major highway which seems to be full of construction and sleep-deprived truck drivers these days.

This is a big transition summer for my family as our youngest prepares to go away to university (in less than 30 days! But apparently, I’m the only one doing that countdown, and no, it’s not because I can’t wait for him to leave), and our oldest goes back to Nova Scotia to complete her final year and starts thinking about next steps.

 

Pic of my son and his friends canoeing towards a forest fire and thunderstorms. Symbolism aplenty.

So, in order to maximize time with my kids while they work summer jobs, I haven’t taken a holiday per se, but I have worked shorter hours so I can be home for a spontaneous BBQ with them and their friends, or a quick trip to the ice cream shop – or, quite frankly, just work from my little garden in the back of our house and grab a few minute to chat as they come and go. It’s precious and sweet, and I cherish my time with these two incredible young adults. Granted, they don’t do many dishes, lose their wallets and keys regularly, and text me “What’s for dinner?” or “Can I have the car?” almost daily.

It’s hectic, but it’s so fun.

One night, we all took the local ferry (20 minutes to cross, free!) to Wolfe Island and had a leisurely dinner with friends on a patio and watched the sun set and the blood moon emerge. It felt like a week-long vacation but we were minutes from our house. Amazing.

 

Kingston also has a gorgeous new urban beach which is just down the street from where I live. I love that everyone in our city finally has free access to a beautiful swimming spot. My friend Amber took this pic a few days ago, and it was likely early in the day as the beach is full to the rafters by midday:

 

When I drive alone, I love to listen to podcasts. Here are the ones I have been listening to:

 


Hidden Brain – NPR: A podcast about social psychology with Shankar Vedantam

Check out these two episodes:


Revisionist History (season 3) – Malcolm Gladwell: Gladwell is back with a third season of his fantastic RH podcast

From their website: “Each week for 10 weeks, Revisionist History will go back and reinterpret something from the past: an event, a person, an idea. Something overlooked. Something misunderstood.”

Two great episodes that focus on memory and recall (and throws in a great story about a spy and Ingrid Bergman):


Bodies – Allison Behringer: recently launched, Bodies starts each episode with a medical mystery and does a deep dive.

The first episode is called “Sex Hurts” where Behringer explores her own journey with pelvic pain with complete candor and presents some very interesting findings in the literature and expert interviews. She also discusses the ongoing lack of knowledge among medical professionals about women’s health. This is a powerful and important topic.

I am really looking forward to the next episodes in this series.


So anyway, this is all to say that I’ve deliberately carved out time this summer to process, reflect and mull over what this massive change means in my family’s life. 

And I have also decided that mini-breaks and staycations can be sweet and restorative.

I hope that you enjoy these podcast recommendations.

Your HeART’s Work with Jessica Dolce

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Here at TEND, we are fortunate to encounter some wonderful people who work in a wide variety of fields and professions. One of those wonderful people is Jessica Dolce.

Jessica’s work focuses on helping animal care and welfare professionals navigate compassion-related stress, as well as cultivate resilience in their work and life. She’s a Certified Compassion Fatigue Educator, coach, writer and dog walker, as well as the creator of Dogs in Need of Space. 

Jessica joined us for our Train the Trainer course in 2015, and we’re so excited to see her bring the discussion of compassion fatigue into the world of animal welfare. 

 We love Jessica’s playful and edgy style – one of our favourite messages of hers is that of #CompassionateBadassery:

“Practicing compassionate badassery means mindfully making vulnerable, courageous choices that support sustainable, ethical, and satisfying caregiving.”

Today, we’re excited to share one of Jessica’s blog post as featured on HeART’s Speak. She discusses the intersection of animal care and compassion fatigue, as well as shares strategies to help manage compassion fatigue-related stress. 

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Ask anyone why they volunteer or work with animals and you’ll probably get the same answer: fast cars, fame, and heaps of money. Oh wait, that’s why people want to be rock stars! People who work with animals do it because they care. Because it is their heart’s work. 

So let me ask you something, just between us: When was the last time you thought about how the work you do with animals is having an impact on your heart?

As a volunteer or a staff member at a shelter or rescue, you’re exposed to so many animals and people who are in need of help. And all day long you collect their stories, take their photos, and care for them through your compassionate actions. At the end of the day, where do all those stories and worries go? They’re gathered in your heart (and your body and your mind).

That’s a heavy load to carry.

Compassion fatigue, according to Dr. Charles Figley, is the natural consequence of stress resulting from caring for traumatized people and animals. In other words, it’s the physical and emotional exhaustion that arises from the constant demand to be compassionate and effective in helping those in need and who are suffering.

Here’s the thing: Compassion fatigue is a normal, predictable result of doing this work. We can’t help others without being affected by it at some point. It’s an occupational hazard.

So why aren’t we better prepared to deal with it? When you first began your work with animals, did anyone pull you aside and tell you that you needed a game plan to cope with the emotional and physical challenges of doing this heartfelt work? Were you given any tools or strategies to help you cope? For most of us, the answer is no.

So many of us are experiencing compassion fatigue symptoms without ever having heard about it. So let’s talk about it a little here, ok?

Continue reading Jessica’s blog post here.


HeARTs Speak is an international nonprofit organization that’s uniting art and advocacy to increase the visibility of shelter animals. You can learn more about them on their website, or check out this feature article by consumersadvocate.org, HeARTs Speak – Because Every Voice Matters.

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Interested in joining the team of Compassion Fatigue trainers? Check out Compassion Fatigue: Train the Trainer – coming to Kingston, ON on October 16-18th, 2018.

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Disappoint Someone Today

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by Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC., RP

A few years ago, I was running late one morning and rushed out of the house to get to work. My teenage daughter called me a few hours later and told me on speakerphone, with all her friends in the car, “mom, you left the straightening iron on, it could have caused a fire. I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.” And then she burst out laughing. Other than my dangerous oversight, this was a funny interaction because my daughter was using language that she clearly had heard several times in her life (from me, I might as well admit it right now) and she was enjoying the role reversal.

I don’t know if you’re like me, but there is very little I dislike more than knowing that I have disappointed someone. I think that a lot of us caregivers have this natural predisposition to please others and take care of everyone else’s needs. This makes us excellent friends, family members and professionals. There are also deeply fulfilling positives to feeling needed, helpful and caring. I would not trade that for the world.

However, there can also be a cost to being super-human caregivers, because, it turns out, the need will ALWAYS outweigh what we can provide. This is true professionally, as well as personally.

I recently went to a grocery store to pick up several favourite food items for my family and it wasn’t until I got back to the car and drove away that I realised that I had not for a second thought about getting what I myself needed or wanted. I parked the car on a side road, and took a few minutes to breathe. What was I trying to prove? To whom? That I am invincible, without needs? That I can always take care of everyone else, no matter what?

We learn these patterns early, and they become embedded in our identity.

I come from a long line of caregivers, and maybe you do too. My mother told me about caring for her depressed mother, cooking meals for the family, taking care of household chores at age five (yes, five years old, not even in primary school yet). My brother and I took on adult responsibilities at ages nine and twelve when our parents got divorced and things were tough in our house. We are still both known for our solid, dependable, reliable character. We pride ourselves on it. It has brought us professional rewards and tremendous satisfaction. My mother too, as a matter of fact. She was a shining star in her field, and was highly recognised for her incredible work ethic, fairness and trustworthiness.

And then, one day, we start to realise that we are running on empty. Or maybe we drop the ball, forget something, let someone down inadvertently. Or we get sick, or start feeling low. Or we completely max out our bandwidth and we simply cannot do it all because the demand is completely exceeding our capacity.

The wonderful author Cheryl Richardson has written about “Extreme Self Care” in several of her books. She invites us to reassess life’s true priorities, apart from the basics of safety, shelter, food and love. I return to Richardson’s books time and again and always find a quote to support what I know to be what I truly need.  

Here is one from her book “The Art of Extreme Self-Care”: “if you want to live an authentic, meaningful life, you need to master the art of disappointing and upsetting others, hurting feelings, and living with the reality that some people just won’t like you. It may not be easy, but it’s essential if you want your life to reflect your deepest desires, values and needs.”

So, taking a page out of Cheryl’s work, I would like to invite us all to look at what’s on our plate at the moment, perhaps in the coming two months. Is there something that you have already agreed to do (personally and/or professionally) that you could say no to? What would the consequences be, of saying no? Will someone be disappointed? Is that the fear? And then what? What if, in fact, we DO need to disappoint sometimes? Are we afraid of losing love, respect, friendships? Do we exist if we are not the “go-to” at all times?

These are profound questions. I will admit. Things that I grapple with almost daily.

I had to disappoint people that I deeply care about recently. At first, I resisted. I felt so guilty, I was going to upset them, without a doubt. But something had to give. I was completely stretched at work and at home and I was totally overwhelmed. So, I did what I always do when I feel like my head is going to burst: first, I went for a long walk. Then, the next time I had an hour to myself, I went to yoga. Then I got a full night’s sleep. Finally, I went to talk to a trusted advisor.

A trusted advisor can be a dear friend, a coach, therapist or a spiritual counsellor. In my case, I am very lucky to have several wise women in my life who know me well and aren’t afraid to challenge me. They know my patterns and can also call me on my bullshit. I went to see one of them and I probably talked for 45 minutes uninterrupted, unloading my dilemmas and multitude items on my to do list. Finally my friend said “it just can’t all be done. You are going to have to disappoint some people, but also recognise that you have set a pattern over years of always saying yes and, therefore, their reaction will likely not be very good. So be prepared for that. But also, be honest, tell them what’s going on, and why you are saying no.”

So I did. I went off and disappointed a whole bunch of people.

And although I felt badly about it, I also felt tremendous relief. I carved out some space to breathe, and the need for me to reassess how much capacity I claim to have, to take on more than I can handle. To be the fixer, the reliable one at all times.

I truly believe that in order to maintain integrity and compassion in the very challenging work that we do, we must be honest about our limits, and to above all else, to be able to show ourselves compassion first before we can truly care for others.

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Recommended Readings:

Resilience, Balance and Meaning Workbook by Dr. Patricia Fisher, R.Psych., L.Psych.

Take Time for Your Life: A 7-Step Program for Creating the Life You Want  by Cheryl Richardson

Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself  by Kristin Neff, Ph.D.

Compassion Fatigue Workbook by Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC., RP

#JustTryingToHelpSomeKids

Words of Wisdom from Karen Hangartner of the Huntsville CAC

 
We have had the immense privilege of working with several Child Advocacy Centres (CACs)  in Canada and the US over the past several years. CACs were created to be as the main point of contact for a child and their family who have experienced child abuse and trauma. The aim of the CACs since their inception has been to reduce the negative and potentially retraumatizing impact on children who have to attend numerous different sites and professionals in order for them to offer their testimony and receive the care and treatment they need and deserve. The National CAC in Huntsville, Alabama is one of the leading organizations providing education, treatment and consulting to agencies who work with children who have experienced trauma across the nation. Last week, our dear colleague Karen Hangartner of the Huntsville CAC wrote a powerful piece on managing our own wellness while dealing with our difficult and challenging political landscape.
#JustTryingToHelpSomeKids
 

It has been a tough couple of weeks for our country and for those of us who work with child trauma daily. My immediate, innate response has been to immerse myself in the media coverage of what has been happening on our borders. Watching newscasts has been the first thing I have done in the mornings and the last thing I do before bed. I have been angry, despondent, sad, and have felt powerless to help these children. I assume that my responses are not that much different than most CAC professionals across our country. While many Americans have also been saddened and outraged by the family separation policy, I believe child abuse professionals, in particular, are at an increased risk of being more negatively impacted. We know how wrenching it is for a child to be removed from their family. We know what child trauma looks like. We know the long-term impacts. We did not have to wait to see the images that were finally released to the public to visualize what these kids have been going through. We already had those images in our heads. While the faces might be different, make no mistake, we are all too familiar with the anguish on the faces of children who are experiencing trauma.

Read the rest of the article:

Link to Article : Secondary Trauma and Family Separation

 

Highlights from CARE4YOU Halifax 2018

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Being at the CARE4YOU conference….

Inspires me to keep going!    Reminds me that I deserve to love my work.   Taught me that I need to take care of myself too.   Makes me think that I matter.   Allowed me to ‘reset myself.’   Encouraged me to do more self-care.    Inspires me to tend to myself.

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Thank you to everyone who joined us at CARE4YOU 2018 in Halifax, NS!  We got to work alongside a diversity of wonderful professionals from across North America, including nurses, police officers, social workers, members of the military community, and many others. 

We had the pleasure of experiencing some true East Coast hospitality from our presenting sponsor IWK Health Centre. Special thanks to Holly Murphy and Prasanna Kariyawansa and the rest of the Trauma-Informed Care team for helping make it all happen!

Even though the conference is over, let’s continue the conversation about self-care. Share your thoughts with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIN with #CARE4YOU.

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Thanks to MJ photographics for capturing these wonderful moments from the conference. 

 

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Excerpts from “The San Diego International Conference on Child and Family Maltreatment, 2015”

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Françoise presented her “Beyond Kale and Pedicures” keynote at the Chadwick Center’s annual San Diego Conference on Child and Family Maltreatment conference in January, 2015, during which she reviews the history of compassion fatigue research, as well as suggests new directions for the field.

Below are highlights from the keynote: (Warning: Strong Language)

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The San Diego Conference focuses on multi-disciplinary best-practice efforts to prevent, investigate, treat, and prosecute child and family maltreatment. The objective of this annual conference is to develop and enhance professional skills and knowledge in the prevention, recognition, assessment and treatment of all forms of maltreatment. Learn more about the conference here.

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“My kid got into college! Now what?” – a chat with Dr. Mike Condra

transition from high school to college

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What is this podcast about?

The transition from high-school to college or university can be a very stressful time for students and their parents/guardians. Leaving home, challenging courses, meeting new people – it can all feel daunting and hard. Sometimes these compounding pressures can feel like too much. If that happens, what should a student do? Who do they turn to?  What are the best options?  For parents/guardians, what are the warning signs that your child is in need of some extra support?

Dr. Mike Condra, a veteran mental health expert with 20+ years of experience working at one of Canada’s top universities has advice to help prepare parents and students understand how to navigate and address the mental health needs of students at post-secondary school. Click here for Dr. Condra’s full biography.

Listen to the full podcast here:


Transition Resources from Dr. Mike Condra:

Beginning Post-secondary Education: Tips for Parents/Guardians PDF

Mental Health Student Handbook (English, French and Accessible versions available)

Ask the Expert: Q&A Webinar with Françoise Mathieu

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Last week, Françoise had the honour of being invited to participate in an “Ask the Expert” webinar by CIR – the Centre for Innovation and Resources Inc. The CIR serves those who are working to protect and heal children and families. They work to optimize established services so that children, families, and communities are served in a holistic way based on best practices and current research.

During this webinar, Françoise answers questions from healthcare professionals surrounding the issues of vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue, as well as offers suggestions on how to combat its effects in our work and personal life.

Some of the questions include:

“I like to watch the news to keep informed, however I’m aware it affects me due to vicarious trauma. I’ve tried not watching or reading any news at all, but that doesn’t work. What do you suggest?”

“What are some tools that I can use to help me with the stories that haunt me?”

“What are some strategies for recharging when we realize that compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma is affecting our ability to connect with the work we do, and our personal lives?”

Find the answers to these questions and many more in the full “Ask the Expert” webinar:

 


Resources mentioned in the video:

TEND Blog posts – Becoming Trauma-Informed, Bridges out of Poverty

TEND Articles – Low Impact Debriefing , Beyond Kale and Pedicures, The Business Case

TEND Training – Window of Tolerance Framework by Diana Tikasz

Online Resource – SHIFT wellness

Book Recommendation – Bouncing Back, by Linda Graham.

 

Bridges out of Poverty – resource recommendation

Bridges over Poverty, blog post, resources for compassion fatigue and trauma exposure

review by Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC., RP

Bridges out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities – a great resource to develop more compassionate and effective tools to support individuals who live in underprivileged communities.


If you work with folks who live in poverty, these challenges are often multigenerational, complex and very difficult to overcome. Whether your clients are inner-city dwellers with its host of challenges or are individuals trying to make ends meet in remote communities with a lack of basic public amenities and transportation services, this book is a fantastic resource.

Bridges out of Poverty, written by Dr. Ruby Payne, is both a book and an entire community-building program to enhance service providers’ understanding of the complicated layers and resiliency of those who live in chronic poverty.

I was introduced to the book several years ago by a lovely workshop participant from Nebraska who has been involved in bringing the program to his community. I read it from cover to cover as soon as I received it.

Ruby Payne does not only provide a template to assist people living in poverty gain better access to the supports they need, she also invites the reader to reflect on the admirable strengths, resourcefulness and resiliency of folks who have had to struggle to have even the most basic resources: shelter, food, jobs, transportation and much needed health care.

Those of you who have heard me speak in the past know that I am a firm believer that the key to compassion satisfaction and improved quality of care for everyone begins with developing a better understanding of the strengths and challenges of those we serve. This book is a great place to start.


Sources: 

Payne, R. K., DeVol, P. E., Smith, T. D., (2001) Bridges out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities. Houston: AHA! Process.

Reducing Unnecessary Trauma Exposure in Service Providers

by Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC., RP

Many years ago, when my dear friend Robin Cameron and I developed our very first compassion fatigue workshop, we came across the term “limited disclosure” in Laurie Anne Pearlman and Karen Saakvitne’s book Trauma and the Therapist.

The authors, who were well ahead of the curve on all matters related to VT and Compassion fatigue solutions, suggested that we, as professionals, should consider taking a careful look at “how much detail about the violence or abuse [we] want to share [with one another].” (Pearlman, personal communication)

This concept of “limited disclosure” rang so true to us that we immediately integrated it in our training. We called it Low-Impact Debriefing in a cheeky nod to the aerobics craze of the 80s and also because it formed the acronym L.I.D. The idea of low impact debriefing is twofold: to be able to share the information that we need to, while at the same time not having a highly negative impact on the listener. We were not suggesting that we should keep a lid on difficult things but wanted to suggest that we should all perhaps take a careful inventory of how much graphic information we need to be sharing when debriefing difficult stories or consulting on cases with colleagues. Perhaps a better analogy is that of a pressure cooker that lets the steam out little by little rather than in one giant burst with potentially negative consequences.

Over the past decade, my team has received many invitations to present at trauma trainings: child abuse symposia, conferences for parents of murdered children, workshops for sex crimes investigators, courses on the Dark Net and cybercrime, and many similar other conferences. We are often struck by the extremely graphic details that are almost invariably shared during these events: gruesome photos shown on a giant screen during a lunch time keynote, detailed descriptions of a murder or assault on a child, minute details about the smells, sounds and sights of a crime scene and even, at times, graphic audio and video footage. Some of these scenes can be very difficult to forget.

When is Trauma Exposure Gratuitous and When it is Necessary?

I think that we can all agree that many media outlets share an excessive amount of potentially disturbing images in their coverage (and in fictional shows, but that’s for another post). I remember listening to CBC news radio on my headset a few years ago while I was out for a run, and suddenly, without warning, the host played an actual audio of a child being victimized. I remember tearing the earpieces away from me and thinking “WTF just happened? Why was this necessary during a midday radio show? And I that instance, I don’t think that the now overused customary warning “content may be disturbing to some” was enough to justify airing that footage.

I am also well aware that at times, graphic details are essential to a trauma training – if you are a forensic examiner or an investigator of any sort, you must be able to recognise and differentiate between an accidental injury and one that has been deliberately caused by another person, or you may need to learn how to assess a crime scene and the related details that are present. You may need to learn how to interview a criminal in order to develop better investigative or clinical skills. Sometimes, we need videos, photos and details in order to do our job properly.

But here is my question to you: how much detail is too much? Even at a trauma conference, are all details required at all times? Is it enough to give people a warning at the start of our talks “this may disturb you” or do we all have a responsibility to reassess what we are sharing and how much detail is enough?

We were recently asked to create a brand-new course called “The Things We Can’t Unsee: Reducing the Impact of Secondary Trauma Exposure” which we have had the privilege of offering to legal professionals, child abuse investigators and victim service providers across North America this year. The response has been extremely positive and has led to some powerful discussions and reflection among participants. A good place start addressing this issue is to perform a personal “trauma audit” for ourselves and see how much extraneous trauma stories we are sharing with one another. To go further, please read The four steps to Low Impact Debriefing as discussed in my book (Click here).

“I’m not bothered by these stories”

Now, I have been in the field long enough to know that some of you will say “I have been exposed to thousands of stories, they don’t bother me anymore” and perhaps this is true. We all have a different level of sensitivity to difficult images and traumatic details based on a whole host of personal factors. But it would be interesting to be able to measure our stress hormones and see whether that is actually true, or to be able to perform a brain scan and see how our limbic system responds to repeated exposure. As psychiatrist Dr. John Bradford so eloquently explained in his testimonials a few years ago, after 30 years of exposure to gruesome images, he also thought that he was immune, until, one day, he was not: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/health/Tough+forensic+John+Bradford+opens+about+PTSD/9152171/story.html

To Learn More:

 

Sources:

Mathieu, F. (2012) The Compassion Fatigue Workbook: Creative Tools for Transforming Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma. New York: Routledge.

Pearlman, L. A., & Saakvitne, K.W. (1995). Trauma and the therapist: Countertransference and vicarious traumatization in psychotherapy with incest survivors. New York: W.W. Norton. pp. 383-384.