The Junk in the Driveway – A reflection on Dual Relationships

I’ve been thinking a lot about conflicts of interests, boundaries and dual relationships lately.

This wasn’t actually prompted by the appalling abuses of power we have seen in news headlines in the past few months (and, what a long list we could make…) of people in positions of trust or influence who violated some fundamental rules about power dynamics and respect.

And it wasn’t really triggered by questions I regularly get from new professionals in health care or the legal system, as they try to sort out the grey zones in their Codes of Conduct between what is right and what is wrong when we engage with other human beings: maybe get closer to our clients emotionally, or know of something that could really help them out but is a breech of the rules we are governed by. Or we find something out in our work that has an impact on another aspect of our lives but we are bound by confidentiality.

No, this all started with a pile of junk blocking a driveway.

Dual relationships – the fairly benign ways in which we are all put in potentially tricky situations when we wear several hats personally and professionally.

This happens frequently when we live in small communities of course – when your in-law is also your dentist, or your hairdresser, or your best friend is also the town’s police officer or the women’s shelter worker or land developer or when you hire your sister’s kid to mow your lawn.

But let me go back to the pile of junk.

Imagine that I have hired your daughter Holly to help me with yard work. You and I are close friends, and we also work together. But I’m also your supervisor at the office.

We have an agreement, I pay your kid x amount for the work that she does and Holly knows when she is supposed to come. Great. I am getting my junk cleared and your child gets some pocket money and some work experience.

But what if I’m not happy with Holly’s work? It may be that I’m really comfortable being a direct communicator and we just sort it out between ourselves, Holly and I. All good.

It may also be that Holly’s shy and I am worried about hurting her feelings so I don’t say anything because she’s your kid and you’re my friend and I’m also your boss.

Now imagine that one day, you are driving by my house, and you notice that the junk hasn’t been removed when it clearly should have. What happens next? Do you text your child and say “get your butt over there”? Do you get out of your car and do the junk removal yourself ? (don’t laugh, I have done this in the past, I confess! Shame shame!).

What happens next? Let’s say I, the boss, get to work, and I am frustrated with Holly’s work. In fact, I wasn’t able to get my car out of the driveway because she didn’t do her job and I’m late for a meeting with you, her parent.

Ok let’s try another scenario: You are selling your house, it’s on the market. A dear friend wants to buy the house and says “let’s do it privately, we’ll save a ton on real estate fees.” Is that ok? Is it a dual relationship?  What if you agree and there turns out to be a huge problem with your sewer system, that you didn’t know about or failed to disclose? What happens to the friendship? Does your best mate have to sue you? How do we handle this?

A few years ago, I was contacted by a woman who urgently wanted me to see her adult daughter for counselling. Although this mother did not know me, I knew exactly who she was – and the odds of us ending up at a private function or dinner party were extremely high. I told her that I wasn’t comfortable seeing her child but that I would recommend other excellent therapists. The mother insisted: “why can’t you see her? I don’t know you, and I would not be in any way uncomfortable seeing you at a dinner party.” And I realized that in this case, the discomfort was that this would potentially encroach on my privacy – what if the patient and I don’t get along? What if I, at some point, have to report her to child protective services of have her hospitalized? So I politely turned the mother down and, in the end, it was the right call, as things unraveled and I would have been in the middle of a mess that overlapped between my personal and professional life. Not good for them, not good for me.

None of these examples are situations where people abused their power, or violated any ethical or moral codes. But they are examples of dual relationships, and I think that we all encounter these at various times in our lives, especially if we live in small communities, no matter what profession we’re in.

Registered health professionals receive training on ethics and codes of conduct and we all know the sacrosanct rules about confidentiality, duty to report and that we’re not supposed to date our patients (Ugh. I hope everyone knows that one). But I think that all of us encounter more subtle challenges in our daily lives that, unaddressed, can lead to conflict, awkward misunderstandings and a myriad of other problems.

I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t hire Holly to do your yard work. But I am thinking that clear agreements ahead of time can prevent upset and strife.

The real estate deal is partly a true story, although we didn’t have any hidden sewer problems. How we handled it was through very clear communication about all the ways in which this could be tricky, and I spent a great deal of time writing a full disclosure document about all things down the road and we shared information with the vendor about things that were potentially wrong with our house. This process was about transparency and communication and it was essential, in my mind, to prevent future conflict or damage to our friendship.

Dual relationships are sometimes inevitable, but I always take a pause when I see one in the offing and I try to reflect on the cost of ignoring the potential pitfalls for the sake of saying yes or being a pleaser.

How you navigate them in your life?

Helpful Online Tools to Manage Stress and Compassion Fatigue

Following my last two posts on favourite books (link here) and podcasts (link here), here are a few helpful online apps to manage stress, compassion fatigue, trauma exposure and help us reset after challenging days.

There is now strong evidence suggesting that body-centered approaches are among some of the most effective ways to manage trauma exposure and stress. For some of us, that includes a regular yoga or meditation practice, vigorous physical exercise or other therapeutic techniques such as EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) or EFT (emotional freedom technique), to name a few.

But if your schedule or personal preferences do not lean towards incorporating some of these practices into your every-day life, what can you do? Even if you already practice yoga or mindfulness, here are some easy to use, portable techniques that you can include in your self-care arsenal.

Here are some of our favourite apps:

The 7-minute workout:

Stress Reduction Activities:  

Headspace Mindfulness app: 

Ichill – Stress Reduction App by the Trauma Resource Institute:

Digital use manager:

Emotional Freedom Technique (Tapping to reduce stress and anxiety)


Interested in more training? 

TEND Associate Diana Tikasz, MSW. has created a new one day workshop called WTF: The Window of Tolerance Framework and other Strategies to Keep You Grounded in High Stress Situations. This training has received rave reviews from participants. WTF will also soon be available as a web-based course on our site!

Brief description of the WTF course: The pace, content and competing demands of the modern workplace has left many of us operating in constant stress and overdrive. Frequently this elevated stress state is challenged further with added pressures and trauma exposure. Eventually we can find ourselves shutting down and numbing out because our bodies are not built to function in this high-energy state for extended periods of time. As a result, we see many negative physical, emotional, behavioural and relational consequences in the workplace.

WTF stands for “Window of Tolerance Framework”. This one-day training provides skills to move helping professionals out of states of reactivity or avoidance and into the place of possibility where we are centered amongst the chaos and can choose how we wish to respond. It is ideally suited for front-line workers and others working with forensic evidence, investigations, court, with witnesses and victims and those working with individuals who have experienced difficult and traumatic experiences.

Please contact us for more information about Diana’s live training.

Favourite podcasts to Unwind and Reset

I travel a lot for work and find that flights or train rides are an ideal time to catch up on readings, emails and to-do lists. But sometimes I need to completely switch off from trauma work and take a real break, and for that, podcasts are fantastic. I tend to find that watching movies or TV shows doesn’t leave me particularly refreshed or restored, but podcasts always seem to do the trick. They are also great for long car rides or when I am cooking a big batch of food for the week.

In a recent post (link here) I provided a list of my favourite books to manage stress, secondary trauma and burnout. Today, I wanted to offer some podcast recommendations here. Feel free to add your top choices in the comments section below!

If you are not familiar with what podcasts are, they are basically radio shows/special interest topics that you can download to your devices and listen to them even while offline. Many of them are free and you can subscribe to them through your app store, Itunes, Spotify or companies like Audible. I mostly use the app store on my phone for these and almost all of the ones that I listen to are free. I signed up and now I get them delivered into my podcast app automatically.

Now, podcast choices are very personal and not everyone has the same tastes, so it is important to try several of them out. Do you like history? Food? Design? Sports? Crime stories? (now, not too many crime stories, friends! Remember to protect yourself from unneeded trauma exposure during your leisure times).

My Top 5 faves:

  • Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell (2 seasons). Fascinating exploration of unexplored aspects of a past event that everyone remembers. I listened to the entire first series during a long drive, and had to finish it in my friend’s driveway before going in. I couldn’t stop.
  • 99% Invisible: Short shows on the intersection between social science and urban design. This one is hard to describe, just check it out. I particularly liked the one on “Unpleasant design” and how spaces are sometimes deliberately built to discourage loitering, sleeping or skateboarding. I notice that now every time that I try to get comfortable in an airport chair that has deliberately been designed to prevent us from lying down. Thanks a lot.


  • This American Life TAL is a very famous podcast, and the topics are all human interest and vary each week. When I don’t like it, I just skip to the next one. There was a riveting account of the experience of being a refugee trying to gain entry into the US. Some stories are more disturbing than others so choose wisely.


  • Hardcore History by Dan Carlin My husband and son are huge fans of these epic multi-hour explorations of historical events. I loved “The Wrath of the Khans” and the show on the protestant reform. In fact, I weeded my entire garden listening to that last one. Strange, but true.


  • Death, Sex and Money Yep, doesn’t get much better than those three topics.


Good Reads for Helpers

If you’ve met me before, you will know that I am a huge believer in bibliotherapy, the transformative power of books – at least for those who enjoy reading. (I will have other suggestions in a future post for the rest of you.)

I was once told, at the end of a two-day compassion fatigue training that I had “recommended too many books” – Impossible, I say!

When I had a private practice, I had a shelf full of my top ten reads which I would lend to clients until I realised that the return rate was, ahem, random at best. So, instead, I started compiling lists of recommended readings which I continue to share in my workshops and trainings.

On these cold winter days, snuggling up with a good read and learning new strategies to combat compassion fatigue and general stress sounds like a healthy way to beat the winter blues.

My favourite books to help professionals stay healthy and compassionate:


Compassion Fatigue/Vicarious Trauma

Trauma Stewardship by Laura Van Dernoot Lipsky (2009) 

The Compassion Fatigue Workbook by Françoise Mathieu (2012) (available here)


Organizational Health

Is work Killing You? A Doctor’s Prescription for Treating Workplace Stress (2013) by David Posen 

Building Resilient Teams by Patricia Fisher (2016) (available here)


Trauma and the Body 

Bouncing back: rewiring your brain for maximum happiness by Linda Graham (2013)

 Childhood Disrupted: How your Biography Becomes your Biology by Donna Jackson Nakazawa, (2015).

 The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk, (2014).

The Body Bears the Burden: Trauma, Dissociation and Disease by Robert Scaer, (2014).


Stress/Immune System

When the Body Says No by Gabor Maté

Resilience, Balance & Meaning Workbook by Patricia Fisher (available at here)


Work/Life Balance

Take Time for Your Life: a 7 Step Program for Creating the Life you Want by Cheryl Richardson (1999)

 Self Care/Stress Reduction

 Little book of stress relief by David Posen

 Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter by Elaine St James


Developing An Action Plan


New Year – New you Part 4 – Developing an action plan

Part one: New Year – New You  link here

Part two: Taming the Inner Critic link here

Part three: link here

One of my favourite books on making lifestyle changes is Take time for your life by Cheryl Richardson. Written quite some time ago, it remains, to my mind, one of the best life coaching books out there.

Cheryl Richardson invites us to take stock of all the drains on our energy: financial, emotional, spiritual, physical, clutter, etc. and helps us map out an actionable plan.

Another good book is Finding your own north star by Martha Beck.

Both of these authors invite us to reflect on our priorities and assess whether our daily decisions reflect what matters to us most.

So, where can you begin?

Who do you need in your corner? Do you have an accountability partner?

What obstacles do you anticipate?

If your goals don’t pan out at first, what is your plan to remain compassionate towards yourself and reassess your goals and adjust them?

I have always found it easier to focus on manageable changes in my life. I may not be able to pay off my mortgage in a year, but I can certainly commit to not buying lunch three days a week and put that money aside in a savings account.

It can also be helpful to create a support system with a few friends who share your goals and you can offer each other moral support when things get challenging. I know for a fact that I only get up to go to my 6am workout five times a week because I really enjoy my gym friends and we encourage each other to show up each day. If I don’t show up, I get a text that says “come tomorrow!” and so I do.

In conclusion, I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, but I do think that we can all make small realistic changes that can have a powerful cumulative impact on our physical and emotional wellbeing. The key is to decide where to begin and be prepared to make many course corrections along the way.

More resources: The Compassion Fatigue Workbook, TEND Resources.

Taking Stock

Taking Stock

Part one: link here

Part two: link here

 I learned a long time ago that self-blame and the inner critic are not my friends, and that beating myself up for what I did or did not do last week, last month, or even last year won’t help make me feel better.

So, when I’ve given myself some loving support and quelled the critic, I open my laptop and take control back, moving forward.  I don’t spend a lot of time on what happened in the past months that lead me to fall off the wagon, I look ahead and make some real plans to get back on track. This is not the same as making massive commitments that I won’t follow through on. These are called “Micro-movements”.

The author SARK has a great book called Make your Creative Dreams Real on the topic of micro-movements, which we at TEND sometimes also call 1% changes. These are very small, realistic and achievable steps.

I tend to take inventory (gently, with self-compassion) weekly. This may or may not work for you but let me share what I do:

Sundays are my “reset” day for the week that just passed and the one to come.  For example, this is the day where, in my house, we meal plan for the week. We pick 2-3 easy meals that can be done in 30 minutes or less for busy nights, or we make a big batch of something healthy that will keep us going for 3 meals during the hectic work week.

I make a grocery list, and go get what we need. If we opted for big batch, Sunday afternoon is spent cooking this up while listening to a great podcast or some music.

On Sundays, I also do a gentle check in with my physical health and finances:


Have I been able to exercise (long walks count, no need for sweaty Crossfit sessions here) at least 3-4 times in the past week? There is great literature on the benefits of 45-minute walks per day and lifting weights to help bone mass and ongoing strength as we age. Have I done at least 2 sessions of heavy weights? Mobility is also very important – staying flexible and strong to keep our hips and knees going. There is also some great new research on the benefits of shorter intense workouts. For some good reads on this topic check out the “7 minute workout” and the books Younger Next Year and The Telomere effect.

 If I am travelling a lot, I don’t get nearly as much exercise as I would like. In those cases, I move on and just plan to do more the weeks that I am home. Sometimes sleeping in is the best idea vs dragging myself, sleep-deprived, to an early workout.


Have I been eating enough greens? Too much caffeine or sugar? I don’t linger on the week that was passed, I just make plans to add some healthy things to my diet. I know what works for my body and what makes me feel bloated and uncomfortable. When I travel, it is harder to get enough fruit and vegetables so I try to increase those when I am home. I also don’t have forbidden foods because that is known to increase the likelihood of bingeing. But I ramp up the good healthy stuff on my plate.

If you didn’t have a chance to listen to our great conversation with Dr. Deb Thompson of “Your Nourished Life” in December, have a listen now. Link Here. Deb is a psychologist and expert in weight wellness. Her website and facebook page are full of compassionate, realistic and healthy approaches to achieving weight wellness. Learn more about Dr. Deb Thompson here. Deb has a totally new way to look at our relationship with food and our body.


Many helping professionals have told me that they are not particularly good with money management. If that is your case, I highly recommend reading Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s book Debt-free forever. It is a simple, step-by-step series of tools to get a handle on your finances.

Numbing out

Now for the most important one – numbing out. Many of us who work in highly demanding and stressful fields also tend to feel emotionally and physically drained at the end of the day. Watching a show or two, playing a game of solitaire or enjoying a bit of online browsing might be a nice way to reset when our brain is full and we just don’t have the energy to do any heavy lifting intellectually. However, we all know the difference between a nice restorative break and numbing out, don’t we? One delicious glass of wine with dinner is the not the same as reaching for the bottle when we walk in from work. When watching two episodes of your favourite show turns into a 5 hour Netflix marathon, it is clear that we are using it to self-medicate from stress or overload.

Can you take a gentle inventory of your favourite unwinding activity? How do you know when it has morphed into avoidance and self-medication? I invite you to monitor your pattern for a week or two and see whether this is helping you reset or whether it has become a problematic behavior.

Next week: Developing an action plan

Taming the Inner Critic

 Part two – Taming the Inner Critic

To read week one go here:

Ah, the inner critic… You know, that angry, negative voice that most of us carry within us. The one that is hurling insults and blame at us and saying things like “what’s wrong with you? You’ve been here before, how can you have allowed this to happen YET again?” a well-honed voice that knows exactly what to say to make you feel like you have failed in your new commitments to do better.

 When I feel overwhelmed and unhappy with my physical, emotional or financial health, I start by taking a deep breath.

Really, try it now. Take a nice long deep breath.

Next, I start paying attention to my inner-critic and try to have a detached compassionate look at what is going on.

I acknowledge the inner critic and I try to park it to the side: “I hear you, old friend, there you are, good old faithful negative voice, you!”

If that doesn’t work and I feel really overwhelmed by the negative voice, I call or text a friend, someone who knows me well and who will lovingly provide me with support. Someone who has been around long enough to know my patterns and can be a strong sounding board. This person doesn’t need to solve anything, they just need to be able to listen, with love.

If that doesn’t work, and I’m really feeling distressed and paralyzed, I call a trusted therapist and get some additional support.

Over time, I have found some strategies that have helped me stay on top of my stuff.  One of them is reflection and processing work. Getting a better understanding of my family history, the triggers and strengths and a sense of the lifelong patterns of my life.  If you had a difficult childhood, and this is a continuous struggle for you, I highly recommend that you read Donna Nakazawa’s book “Childhood Disrupted” which is full of tools to manage difficult emotions for those who had adverse childhood events.

The tool that I use daily is called self-compassion. Dr. Kristin Neff is the author of a book and series of resources on Self-Compassion, and I highly recommend that you check it out (

The key aim of self-compassion is to learn ways to soothe ourselves when we are overwhelmed and self-blaming. The fact is that sometimes we make mistakes, maybe even really screw up, and other times what is happening to us is truly outside of our control. Neff offers some powerful words of wisdom and some guided meditation tools on her website.

Helping professionals tend to be pleasers, doers and often perfectionists. It makes us great at our jobs but also puts us at risk for overcommitting ourselves, burnout, exhaustion and self-neglect. We need to find ways to manage our own energy before we can be of service to others. A good starting place is to make self-care resolutions that are realistic and achievable.

Next Week: Take stock

Week four: Develop an action plan

New Year – New You?


If you stop using that new gym membership by February – you are not alone

Week One

As I have written before, (“Beyond Kale and Pedicures”  link here) we are a very enthusiastic self-help culture. Many of us love the feeling of fresh starts and make frequent commitments to better lifestyle choices and behaviors.

Making resolutions brings temporary relief to whatever mess we feel we’re in (financial, weight, exercise, TV, sugar, alcohol – insert your favorite struggle here) until we fall off the wagon. And, as the data shows, we fall off the wagon a lot!

Fitness centers count on this very human flaw of ours: They know that only 33% of all of the memberships they sell will convert into regular users. Put it this way: if everyone who buys a membership actually used the gym, fitness centers would be completely over capacity, every day!  And that never happens, right? Gyms have a few peak hours, of course, after work or on weekends (and especially in January), where you may have to line up for a machine or have to sign-up for a particularly popular class, but over the year this all works itself out since sixty-seven per cent of all paying members never use the place.

Yet many people keep on paying their dues, either because they are locked into a year-long commitment, or because having the membership alleviates their guilt. Somehow having that gym card in our wallets provides the ongoing promise to ourselves that next week, (next week for sure!) we will go and recoup that investment.

But many of us don’t.

That is also why there is a thriving multi-billion dollar self-improvement industry that keeps on pumping out new wisdom and tips every January: We buy new books and follow “lifestyle” gurus, we spend more money on organizers and products that will make us look younger, thinner or bigger, stronger and richer.

We all start out with the best of intentions, of course. But then, then our real life becomes challenging again – a loved one gets ill, deadlines pile up and we can’t make it to the workouts, or we get sick and are too tired to keep cooking healthy foods … then we stop completely and feel guilty about it. By March, that new treadmill in your basement becomes a drying rack for your kid’s hockey equipment, and that juicer starts collecting dust above your fridge. Then, as a result of this  so-called failure, we self-blame which leads to more eating/spending/inertia/nine hour Netflix binges or whatever is your Achilles heel.

You know what I mean?

How can we break that cycle?

To celebrate the start of 2018, I would like to share some of my favorite strategies in the coming weeks. I will also mention some great resources that I have used for years to stay well and to stop committing to resolutions that set me up for failure.

If you are interested in reading more on self-care, please have a look at The Compassion Fatigue Workbook  (link here) where I discuss self-assessment strategies in depth.


Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC., RP

Specialist in High-Stress Workplaces
Co-Executive Director, TEND

Next blog post: Taming the inner critic

Week three: Take stock

Week four: Develop an action plan