WTF: Essential Grounding and Debriefing Tools for Front Line Workers


Become more centered among the chaos

In the course of their work, many helping professionals are regularly exposed to difficult and sometimes traumatic material: anyone working in the criminal justice system, victim services, front line workers, those who work with forensic evidence and child exploitation, first responders, mental health crisis teams, homeless shelter staff and many others.

When there is a lot of exposure the risk for secondary trauma and compassion fatigue are high. How do we remain healthy and balanced while doing this challenging work? We need tools in our toolbox, skills that we can use before, during and after the difficult event has taken place. New research on grounding techniques and trauma reduction skills are showing promising results in helping to reduce secondary traumatic stress in trauma-exposed professionals.

This October, we are delighted to bring to you a brand new workshop designed by our very own Diana Tikasz, MSW, RSW. Diana has worked for many years in high stress, high trauma-exposed work settings and brings to this training her vast experience as a front line worker and supervisor, as well as the newest findings on the neuroscience of trauma exposure management.

WTF isn’t a swear word! It refers to the Window of Tolerance Framework. The WTF is our optimal zone – the place where we do our best work, when we are feeling calm yet energized, healthy and creative. Stressors and triggers can bring us out of that zone into high stress and reactivity, or into numbness and avoidance.

The techniques offered in this workshop will encompass the whole self as we can often retreat and get stuck in our heads. An emphasis will be on learning and incorporating strategies that change the way we work as opposed to using all our personal time to replenish what our work takes out of us.

This session will provide skills to help move yourself out of states of reactivity or avoidance and into the place of possibility to become more centered among the chaos. This is a crucial skill for front-line workers and others working with forensic evidence, investigations, court, witnesses and victims, and those working with individuals who have experienced difficult and traumatic experiences.

Those who would benefit are any folks in a helping profession that feel they are often overly stressed or hijacked by emotion, or those who are no longer enjoying their work and wondering whether they need to make a career change. Helpers who wish to learn specific skills that they can utilize to protect themselves in difficult situations whether it is working with those challenging clients, sitting in a difficult team meeting or interacting with a colleague who pushes your buttons. It is also for those who find that at times their personal lives are creating the WTF moments, which makes it extremely difficult to be present at work.

Diana: “I often say that helping work is even more difficult when the professional is going through their own personal stresses. We will focus on providing a framework and resources to help us navigate the storm. This workshop is especially for those who are feeling completely detached from what they are doing, feeling as though they are just “going through the motions” or counting down the days to retirement.”

Please consider joining us at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario on October 20, 2016 or bring this training to your team!

For more information and to register, click HERE.




How to Outsmart your Negative Brain

CARE4YOU: The Fifth Annual conference on Compassion Fatigue, Secondary Traumatic Stress and Burnout is designed to care for those who care for others. This year, the program was developed around the theme of “Creating Change Agents”. The Conference will be held in Kingston, On. June 9-10, 2015.

This week, we highlight some of our exciting speakers and topics

How to Outsmart your Negative Brain With Daniel Doherty

Do you ever find it challenging to separate your work and personal life?

Helping professionals often feel personally invested in their caring roles – after all, we are caring individuals. There are great rewards for your investment, but there can also be a great personal cost attached to helping others. It can become difficult to separate work from home, and sometimes affects our personal relationships. Our go-to coping mechanism is often detachment from work and home. While we hope to be protecting ourselves, catching our breath, relaxing, and re-charging, the end result of detachment can lead to simply basking in negative thoughts.

Daniel Doherty tackles these issues in his presentation ‘How to Outsmart Your Negative Brain.’ During this session, Daniel will help participants understand the effects of stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol on our limbic system and pre-frontal lobes. Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D., believes the brain has a built in “negativity bias.” Stress often reinforces this negative bias and also diminishes and/or decreases the useful effects of our “happy hormones.” By understanding our brains when they are stressed, we can take advantage of those “happy hormones” oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, oxygen.

Throw in some jalapeno peppers and 26 seconds to learn how to outsmart the negative intrusive thoughts that keep us in a fatigued state of mind.

Daniel Doherty, MSN, works at Christiana Care Health Systems in Delaware. Christiana Care Health System is one of the country’s largest health care providers that serves more than 600,000 patients yearly; recently Christiana was honored with the Magnet Award status for excellence in nursing by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. For the past 20 years, Daniel has gained experience in emergency nursing and staff development. Daniel has presented similar workshops on this topic to over 100 staff members at Christiana Care Health System and 34 police officers in the Wilmington Delaware Department. Daniel is also a part of the adjunct faculty with Delaware Technical & Community College. Delaware Tech is the State’s first community college, and seeks to inspire their mission of commitment, responsiveness, and vision on a national and state level.

For more information on CARE4YOU click here

Change on a Dime & Sparkle like Sunshine

CARE4YOU: The Fifth Annual conference on Compassion Fatigue, Secondary Traumatic Stress and Burnout is designed to care for those who care for others. This year, the program was developed around the theme of “Creating Change Agents”. The Conference will be held in Kingston, On. June 9-10, 2015.

This week, we highlight some of our exciting speakers and topics

Change on a Dime & Sparkle Like Sunshine:

Bridging the Gap Between Neuroscience and Real Life Applications

heart and brain

Speakers: Steven Hughes and Farah Jindani

In this 75 minute session, Steven Hughes and Farah Jindani invite participants to engage their bodies and brains to experience innovative techniques in trauma therapy. Their creative approach highlights new insights and understanding of trauma exposure, and the role of trauma-informed interventions. Participants will gain resources, including handouts and experiential activities, which will help change the way they feel and learn. Techniques are drawn from fields such as mindfulness, developmental optometry, neuroscience, neuro-linguistic programming, motor development, positive psychology, acupuncture and dance. Activities take between 30 seconds to 1 minute, which assists in restoring a feeling of calmness and control while improving focus. Theory is complemented with plenty of opportunities for hands-on practice and skill-building practices. Participants will learn specific techniques and movement that complement learning styles. Steven and Farah use re-patterning sequences that activate visual, auditory, and kinesthetic areas of the brain to work in synergy. Their strategies will help you to gain confidence, control, and tools to facilitate lasting focus and relaxation.

Steven Hughes, M.Ed., CTDP is an Education Specialist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto. Steven provides educational programs that support physical and mental health, resilience and well-being. Steven integrates his interests and areas of expertise that include accelerated learning, positive organizational development, mindfulness, and wellness- based modalities. All of his programs support learners to gently explore the edges of their personal growth boundaries and to experience new realms of self-discovery. All of Steven’s programs are in harmony with trauma-informed and anti-oppression principles.


Farah Jindani, MSW, Ph.D has provided integrative counselling services to individuals, couples and adolescents for over 10 years. Farah studied psychology and gerontology at the University of Waterloo and went on to study criminology at the University of Cambridge, U.K. Her research interests led Farah to pursue a Masters of Social Work at the University of Toronto, specializing in Health and Mental Health.  Her approach is holistic, blending contemplative practices (including mindfulness, breath work, and yoga) with Western psychology and neuroscience. Her doctoral research focussed on the development, implementation and evaluation of an 8-week mindfulness/yoga program for post-traumatic stress. Farah seeks to understand traumatic stress within the context of each person’s lived experiences, relationships and society. She strives to increase resiliency and has developed training programs that assist with addiction, mental health and mindfulness. Farah currently works with the CAMH and provides consultation services.



For more information on CARE4YOU click here

Talk Matters: Working with Parents of Murdered & Missing Children

CARE4YOU: The Fifth Annual conference on Compassion Fatigue, Secondary Traumatic Stress and Burnout is designed to care for those who care for others. This year, the program was developed around the theme of “Creating Change Agents”. The Conference will be held in Kingston, On. June 9-10, 2015.

This week, we highlight some of our exciting speakers and topics

Talk Matters with Jill Norman

Vicarious trauma regularly happens to those in public service. Resources are often scarce, caseloads increase, and staffs are limited. It is a common problem: staff members are asked to perform more tasks and take on more work with ever decreasing support. So what can be done? What strategies can be used?

In this session, Jill Norman will share her experiences working with Service Canada. She will highlight best practices in providing staff assigned to vulnerable cases with strategies to minimize VT and Compassion Fatigue. Jill has spent time working on The Federal Income Grant for Parents of Murdered and Missing Children (PMMC), a program intended to help support families reeling from loss. She recognized that staff members offering client services like PMMC were continually exposed to traumatic events.

By changing the way her staff communicates with clients, Jill has inspired success in reducing Vicarious Trauma, especially among staff members communicating by telephone. Her PMMC team developed a series of scripts, which provided structure, confidence and quality assurance to clients. These scripts also improved staff efficiency and helped to effectively address stakeholders, alleviating red tape-related barriers. In reducing frustration and providing an effective communication tool for staff members, the team became much more than simply service providers.

Join Jill on Wednesday, June 10th to learn more about her methodologies. She seeks to teach and challenge participants in her session to “become change agents themselves.”

Jill Norman works as a senior manager with Service Canada, leading teams for over 7 years. She has been an instrumental leader in the provision of client service for the PMMC, the Common Experience Payment as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, and the Wage Earner Protection Program. In 2014, Jill’s team won the Governor General’s Award of Excellence in Public Service in Citizen Focused Service Delivery for their role ensuring ex gratia payment for families of victims of the Air India Flight 182 tragedy. Jill also has over 20 years of nursing experience, including work in the field of disability case management.

For more information on CARE4YOU click here

Grounding Techniques for the Trauma-Exposed Practitioner

CARE4YOU: The Fifth Annual conference on Compassion Fatigue, Secondary Traumatic Stress and Burnout is designed to care for those who care for others. This year, the program was developed around the theme of “Creating Change Agents”. The Conference will be held in Kingston, On. June 9-10, 2015.

This week, we highlight some of our exciting speakers and topics

Emotional Freedom Technique: Creating Personal Change through Tapping With Diana Tikasz, MSW.


Do you ever feel stuck? Do you ever wish things would change, that you could be different? You are not alone. Too often we set resolutions, goals, and personal vows only to slip up and reach for that TV remote, that third chocolate cupcake and that second glass of wine. Making emotional changes is tough; we fall back on old patterns and give up on our goals. But deeper, lasting change is possible…especially if you have fun!

In her session, Diana Tikasz presents a powerful tool for creating personal change. ‘Emotional Freedom Technique’ is a simple acupressure technique that allows us to dig deeper and address the beliefs that can often sabotage our efforts and keep us feeling stuck. EFT has been growing in popularity because the simplicity of the technique can be applied to a wide variety of complex issues.

This workshop will provide hands-on training in the basics of EFT, and highlight emerging research that reveals a direct calming of stress in the body when EFT is applied. Diana will help teach you ways to create deeper emotional change that will stick.  Be prepared to have fun and tap into your “silly side” as you learn this procedure. The session is designed to not only help you create your own personal change, but to also help others realize their goals.

Diana Tikasz, MSW has worked in the teaching and health care sector for the past 27 years.  Her helping work began as an early childhood educator nurturing children and their families to reach their fullest potential. Over the course of her career she has worked in emergency department crisis teams, coordinated hospital based sexual assault/domestic violence treatment programs, which involved assisting individuals experiencing a current crisis, counselling those who have been traumatized by violence, and teaching other professionals how to do this work effectively while staying healthy themselves.  She has also worked in various Employee Assistance Programs and private practise where she has specialized in working with individuals who are feeling stressed by their personal and/or work life. Diana grounds her work in current knowledge of the neuro-biology of stress and trauma and utilizes techniques/strategies that work on rebalancing holistically.  Her passion is to assist people in creating personal, professional, and organizational changes that promote optimal health and make us more effective helpers.

 For more information on CARE4YOU click here

Meet a Real Change Agent: Stéphane Grenier

CARE4YOU: The Fifth Annual conference on Compassion Fatigue, Secondary Traumatic Stress and Burnout is designed to care for those who care for others. This year, the program was developed around the theme of “Creating Change Agents”. The Conference will be held in Kingston, On. June 9-10, 2015.

Over the next two weeks, we will highlight some of our exciting speakers and topics

Keynote Presentation with Lieutenant-Colonel (Ret) Stéphane Grenier, Mental Health Advocate

Be Brave: Empower Agents of Change


In today’s modern workplace, mental health problems have become the leading cause of disability claims, accounting for 70% of workplace disability management costs in Canada. As someone who continues to cope with the effects of former post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) Stéphane Grenier knows the toll mental health issues can take on individuals firsthand.

He also understands that for organizations, making changes to company policies and procedures and mobilizing human resources to create better, healthier, more effective teams is hard.  Stéphane Grenier has seen first-hand that there are often monumental changes that need to be effected, and that efforts to shift company culture can create fear.

LCol (Ret’d) Grenier will offer pragmatic advice to foster workplaces that support open, non-stigmatized approaches to mental health. He will encourage us to “Be Brave” and empower the agents of change in our organizations to be the ones that can lead the way to better, healthier, more effective workplaces.

For more information on CARE4YOU click here

Keeping our Compassion Alive: What Works?

by Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC. 

This post was originally written for the hospice and palliative care website Life & Death Matters (see blog post here in its original form).


As a compassion fatigue specialist, I have the privilege of travelling across North America each month, meeting helping professionals of all stripes: nurses, social workers, physicians, police officers, lawyers, and a myriad of others who work in high touch situations with individuals with complex needs.

Sometimes I’m offering a lunchtime keynote, and in other instances a half or full day workshop. During these trainings, participants explore the many-layered challenges of their jobs, exploring their struggles with insufficient resources, inadequate pay, secondary trauma exposure, compassion fatigue and the risks of burnout. Working in this field can be tough when there isn’t enough to go around, and we acknowledge that in our work together.

Understandably, overwhelmed and depleted helping professionals also want solutions when they come to our training and they frequently ask challenging questions: “can we prevent this?”, “What about my workplace, aren’t they responsible for providing a healthy work environment?”, “What can I do when my caseload has doubled in the past three years?”

Read More

Secondary Traumatic Stress and the Ottawa Shooting

Ottawa war memorial

Cliquez ici pour lire l’article en francais

Many people were directly impacted by the events in Ottawa last week – most affected, of course, was the victim’s family, the perpetrator’s loved ones, the good samaritans who rushed to Cpl Nathan Cirillo’s help, the paramedics and police officers who responded to the scene, all of the individuals inside the Parliament building who witnessed the gun fight, and everyone else who was on the Hill: those who spent hours in lockdown, the tourists and passersby who witnessed the attack, the media and a whole host of other people I am probably forgetting. Some of these individuals were directly exposed to a trauma while others experienced a more indirect form of traumatic exposure.

As one moves away from the epicentre of the tragedy, we can list millions of other individuals who were deeply affected by the shooting – Ottawa citizens, Canadian viewers who watched it on the news and of course the global community.  These folks were not exposed to direct trauma, but were potentially secondarily traumatized all the same: If you watched some of the raw media footage which was shown on our TV screens minutes after the shooting, you may have noticed some very graphic, rather disturbing images centered around the victim. I noticed that as the day progressed, while the footage was being shown in a continuous loop, it was slightly altered to mask some of the more disturbing elements of the scene.  (You may not have noticed that, but I have a homing device for trauma exposure in the public sphere and how it’s done, call it my own personal mission and obsession). However, with YouTube, and dozens of passersby able to film the scene with their smart phones, it won’t be hard to see that raw footage somewhere on the net, if one looks hard enough. I am not sure why the media outlets decided to stop showing the more graphic details – was it out of respect for the victim’s family? A decision to spare the viewers? Maybe a bit of both, and that’s a good thing. Too bad it doesn’t happen more often.

Thankfully, our degree of understanding of traumatic stress has significantly improved over the past decade – most people are now fairly familiar with the concept of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and have no difficulty understanding that those at the centre of a tragic event like the Ottawa shooting might be significantly affected for weeks and perhaps months to come. We also know that some individuals are more vulnerable to traumatic stressors and may develop more significant psychological distress as a result of this event: the severity of the reaction is determined by a prior trauma history, a history of mental illness or addiction, a person’s personality and coping styles, whether or not they were able to seek good quality debriefing afterwards, the quality of their social supports and several other factors.

One thing is clear – when we experience a traumatic event, many of us have a strong need to talk about it with others. This is a very good thing. Talk, write, share with your loved ones, with your work colleagues and your friends. This urge to connect and tell our story can also happen to us during very intense happy events – talk to any new mother about her birth story hours or days after the delivery, and she will give you the play-by-play of each cube of ice she chewed on and what centimetres of dilation she was at. Talk to her again a year later, and she will likely tell you, in a nutshell, that “it hurt like hell and took 26 hours” but unless it was a very traumatic birth, she will no longer need to share minute by minute account of what happened. This is completely normal. With traumatic events that involve a criminal act, the need to share and the trauma experienced may be more potent. An “act of God” is very different from one human being’s deliberate decision to cause harm to others, even if the perpetrator is deeply psychologically troubled. So let’s talk about it, absolutely.

However, we should take care to share what is necessary vs “all the gory details” unless those are extremely central to our experience. After 9/11, the Globe and Mail (and many other news outlets) shared some incredibly graphic photos that I will never be able to remove from my mind – I was quite traumatized by those images,  and there were not necessary – I did not need to view these to be compassionate and profoundly distressed by the collapse of the Twin Towers. Fourteen years later, those photos of 9/11 still haunt me whenever I hear mention of the World Trade Centre. The same is true for the Bernardo trial, some 20 years later. Click here to read more about “Low Impact Debriefing”

As the events in Ottawa recede, some of you may remain greatly shaken and very affected by the sounds, images and emotions surrounding the shooting. If, a few weeks from now, you feel that you are more distressed than you should be – maybe you are more upset than your colleagues, are having difficulty sleeping or focusing on other things, perhaps you are experiencing intrusive images or nightmares – please seek some support. Let’s take good care of one another.

Helpful Resources: 

Canadian Mental Health Association: Getting Help

CMHA Website on PTSD

© Françoise Mathieu 2014

Photo credits: Michel Loiselle 

Great resource! Self-Care Starter Kit

how to flourish in social work

The University at Buffalo School of Social Work has developed an excellent self-care starter kit aimed at social work students and other professionals. They have an extensive bibliography, readings, checklists and other resources. They also have a great infographic called “How To Flourish in Social Work” which you can view here.

It’s very exciting to see such good quality resources emerging from the trenches. If you are an educator, preceptor or supervisor, please share this resource with your folks. This is a great tool for all helping professionals.