Musings following the conference….

I hope you won’t mind if I spend a few minutes telling you about what a phenomenal, wonderful job I have! Being self-employed can be tough: no benefits, no sick pay, no job security and way more work hours a day than any salaried employee can imagine. On the flip side, the flexibility is priceless (I am now off for the whole summer – other than keeping up with my emails) and the rewards of my job are too many to enumerate. It is a deeply engaging and satisfying job.

Before this week’s Compassion Fatigue Conference, I wasn’t entirely sure that it would be realistic to have it be an annual event. I wasn’t sure how many people would come and whether they would be nearly as excited about the slated topics as I was. Well, let me tell you, I am now entirely sure that it will be an annual event. 175 participants came this year and the vibe was electric. One of our keynote speakers, Dr Gabor Maté told me after his talk “I loved the energy of this group”, there was something pretty special in the air.

I will write a more in-depth post mortem of the conference next week but for now I am taking a little break and turning into a soccer mom for the weekend. Thank you to everyone who came, to my friend Robin for looking after everything, to the volunteers, to my associates, to Caversham booksellers for doing such a stellar job and to the fabulous presenters who made this such a success. Thank you also to all my friends on whom I relied for childcare this week as my usual support system was off in Europe. Nothing like finding a sleepy eleven year old on your doorstep while you watch the back of my station wagon driving away. Thanks to my kids (all three of them, biological and surrogate) for their patience as I tried to be a good mom while juggling a few too many things. I learned a bit more about delegating this week and it’s a very good thing to do. I could get used to it.

I am already thinking about next year’s conference, that’s a great sign, I think.

Trauma Stewardship: A must read for trauma workers

I am currently revising the Compassion Fatigue Workbook as it is going to be published by Routledge in the Fall (very exciting!). So I have re-immersed myself in the literature to make sure I am not missing anything and to see where I can improve the book (that’s a risky process as it could be endless. There is always room for improvement!…It’s a perfectionist’s nightmare. Thank goodness for deadlines, in a way).

As part of this process, I am re-reading Laura van Dernoot  Lipsky’s wonderful book Trauma stewardship. Laura’s book fills a real void in the field of vicarious trauma resources. Laurie Ann Pearlman and her colleagues had given us the cornerstone books Transforming the Pain and Trauma and the Therapist, but we were in dire need for a book which provided concrete steps to help us navigate the challenging field of trauma work. I wrote the first edition of the compassion fatigue workbook a year before Lipsky’s book was published so I didn’t have a chance to include her wisdom and insights in the workbook. I get to rectify that, this time around.

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Tired or depleted?

An overloaded tree in Watson Lake, Yukon

Hi, I’m back! My blog has been quiet as I was on the road pretty much the whole month: I spent a week in the Yukon with Victim Services, a week in Cuba for a holiday with family, two days in Ottawa running a Train the Trainer session, what felt like ten minutes in Halifax for a workshop with Victim Services and finally three days of training in Kingston. Hectic? You bet. Rewarding and replenishing? Absolutely.  I am often told “Françoise, you are a busy person” and I would agree that I tend to like things on the active side, but there is a tremendous difference between being busy and being overwhelmed. I think it really depends on the nature of what you are doing and how much support you have at home.

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Time for an update in the Compassion Fatigue Solutions world

It’s raining here in Kingston today, a big melting mess of slush and ice and water…I had a meeting with my bank guy today and he recently immigrated from the Dominican Republic. I can tell you, he wasn’t feeling the love for Canada this morning!

I wanted to give you an update of the various activities/projects that are happening in our little company. Read More

New data: Mindfulness Stress Reduction leads to changes in grey matter

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a holistic mind/body approach developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachussets Medical Center in 1979. MBSR is “[…] based on the central concept of mindfulness, defined as being fully present to one’s experience without judgment or resistance”. (Cohen-Katz et al, 2005) The MBSR program recommends using meditation, yoga, relaxation training as well as strategies to incorporate these practices into every day life. To read more about MBSR, click here.

A recent article from the Globe and Mail suggest that MBSR may also lead to changes in our grey matter. Click here to read G&M article.

The gift of vicarious trauma

The sun is pouring into my new office, there is about a foot of snow on the ground, the air is crisp and fresh. It’s a glorious day in Kingston, Ontario.

So far this week, I have crossed many things off my to-do list. Tomorrow, I am going to bake a galette des rois with my kids (first time ever – my son’s idea). Today I found out I did not tear a ligament in my knee during the downhill skiing mishap I had last week. Today I had time to drive to my daughter’s school in the middle of the day and bring her some snow pants…

All of those things make me very happy. I’m a cheap date, I know, but working in this field has taught me to appreciate small, daily events. While it is true that trauma work can rob us of our innocence as I have discussed here previously, the flip side is that doing this challenging work can also allow us to take life in fully, right here in this moment, as we know only too well that it can change so abruptly. There are times when that lost innocence is a painful thing: my heart can tug at the wrong times (often during happy personal events) – a sort of survivor guilt that I feel, knowing that so many people don’t get to enjoy those types of moments or that all of this could be gone in a matter of seconds. When this happens, I gently bring myself back, take a deep breath and remind myself that this is the gift of vicarious trauma: to never take things for granted and to cherish the very moment we are in.

If you are regular reader of this blog, you will know that I am a big fan of Leo Babauta, a popular blogger on the topic of simplifying. Leo recently posted a “best of Zen Habits” for 2010. Go take a look and see whether something in his list inspires you to make a change, however simple it may be, for your new year.

Next week, I will be travelling to Dawson City, Yukon, to work with Victim Services staff. I am really looking forward to this!  January will also see a trip to Ottawa to offer the one day Compassion Fatigue workshop, London for a two day train the trainer and Kingston for a workshop with school principals and vps (if you are coming to the Kingston session, remember – NO blackberries welcome in the room unless you are waiting for an organ transplant!) – School principals are the heaviest bb users I have seen so far in the helping field. I understand why, but it drives me to distraction during a self-care workshop. Ahem. No offence…

Listen to this week’s episode of White Coat Black Art: Public Health, Private Lives

Click here for the podcast version of this week’s show, featuring Daniel Carlat, author of the the new book “Unhinged: The Trouble with Psychiatry – A Doctor’s Revelations about a Profession in Crisis”, Dr Raj Sherman, the former Progressive Conservative member in Alberta who was recently booted from caucus because of his openly critical views of the government’s stance towards health care and overcrowding in ERs. Also on the show is Françoise Mathieu talking about chronic stress among health care workers and the cost of caring.

Signing off until the New Year

In the coming weeks, I am cleaning house, so to speak. I purposefully did not book any workshops or trips for the month of December in order to have a chance to refuel and retool and also because I am moving out of my current office which will involve a fair amount of sorting through papers and documents (you know the ones we hold on to “just in case” for ten years?)… I will be signing off until the first week in January as I am taking two weeks off work to be with my family. I am looking forward to lots of cross-country skiing – weather permitting – skating and eating and reading good books.

Here are a few upcoming events, fyi:

Walking the Walk: Creative Tools for Transforming Compassion Fatigue

January 20, 2011. Ottawa, On.

Sponsored by Bruyere Continuing Care. For more information about this program please contact Gabrielle Alarie. Tel: 613-562-6262, ext. 1089.

Compassion Fatigue Train the Trainer

January 24-25th, London, On.

Sponsored by Safeguards for Children and Youth

For more information on the London event, click here.

Compassion Fatigue Train the Trainer

March 29-30th, Kingston, On.

For more information on the Kingston event, please click here

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“Le syndrome d’épuisement professionnel n’est cependant ni un prix à payer inévitable, ni un cauchemar redoutable qui devrait tous nous démobiliser. Véritable leçon d’humilitée, il est là aussi pour nous rappeler nos limites, nous faire prendre conscience que nous aussi (et pas uniquement les malades) pouvons craquer, souffrir, baisser les bras, et du coup nous rassembler dans une même “humanité” avec ceux que nous soignons.”

Consoli dans “Le burnout du soignant” (2003)