The Edge of Compassion – Françoise Mathieu giving a TEDTalk for TEDxQueensU

For the past 15 years, Secondary Trauma specialist and compassion fatigue educator Françoise Mathieu has been exploring tools to help all of us navigate the challenges of sustaining compassion and empathy towards others – both as individuals and professionals.

This talk explores ways to find the right balance between caring for others while staying healthy and empathic. Françoise is a Registered Psychotherapist and a compassion fatigue specialist. Her experience stems from over 20+ years as a mental health professional, working as a crisis counsellor and trauma specialist in university counselling, military, law enforcement and other community mental health environments.

Françoise is co-executive director of TEND, whose aim is to offer consulting and training to helpers on topics related to secondary trauma, compassion fatigue, burnout, self-care, wellness and organizational health. Since 2001, Françoise has given hundreds of seminars on compassion fatigue and secondary trauma across North America to thousands of helping professionals in the fields of health care, child welfare, the criminal justice system and other similar high stress, trauma exposed professions.

Françoise is the author of “The Compassion Fatigue Workbook” which was published by Routledge in 2012 as well as several articles and publications.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.


 

compassion-fatigue-workbook-francoise-mathieu

“Françoise Mathieu’s writing is wonderful: she speaks from the heart, practitioner to practitioner, about the stressors and strains of human service work, particularly those that come from prolonged regular work with traumatized patients and clients. This is a book you help write by yourself and about yourself. That’s why it is the workbook for trauma work.” – Charles R. Figley, Tulane University, Louisiana, USA, and author of Treating Compassion Fatigue

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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.

 

Developing An Action Plan

via GIPHY

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:

Exercise:

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.

Eating

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.

Finances

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: https://www.tendacademy.ca/newyearnewyou/

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 (http://self-compassion.org).

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

Taking Its Toll…Paying The Price: Vicarious Trauma in Law Enforcement

Law enforcement; a much maligned field but everyday these wonderful individuals knowingly put themselves in to positions of physical danger so that the rest of us can feel safe. While the potential harm to themselves physically is better documented, what are the long term risks of taking a bullet as a police officer, the mental health aspect of their work and who is more likely to end up traumatized by this work is just beginning to be understood. Enjoy this fantastic article by Dr.Fisher below!

By Patricia M. Fisher. Ph.D., & Mark LaLonde
Blue Line Magazine September Issue, 2001

THE SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM

As Tom’s example demonstrates, law enforcement professionals are exposed to two very different sources of stress – organizational (or systemic) job stress, and traumatic stress. Longterm exposure to systemic job stress results in a wide range of negative effects on individuals and the workplace. Exposure to traumatic stress also results in a characteristic set of distressing responses and symptoms. While both systemic stress and traumatic stress are each serious problems in their own right, when combined they greatly increase the risk for negative effects.

It is now clear that the effects of workplace stress and trauma are critical issues in lawenforcement. We know that the problem affects members, their families, the workplace, and the employer. We also know that the problem is increasing and that the personal and financial costs are escalating.

Consequences to the individual member may include a wide range of physical health problems including cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal problems, increased risk for cancer, and immune system problems. Depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and addictions are all outcomes of long-term high-level workplace stress. Unfortunately, longterm stress symptoms such as poor communication, withdrawal, aggression, mistrust and defensiveness often contribute to family breakdown and loss of the member’s support network.
In terms of the organization, effects include decreased productivity, poor morale, increased staff conflict, absenteeism, increased overwork and overtime. Stressed members are also at risk to “cut corners” and engage in more hazardous practices.

Read More Here

A Comprehensive Approach to Workplace Stress & Trauma in Fire-Fighting

An academic article by our very own Pat Fisher.

Do you have any firefighters in your lives that you know could use this information? Please share.

Excerpt: “Firefighters are exposed to a wide range of workplace stresses resulting in a wide range of negative physical, psychological, interpersonal and organizational consequences. This paper presents a comprehensive approach to workplace stress in fire-fighting. The Complex Stress Model encompasses the full set of workplace systemic and traumatic stresses encountered by firefighters. The risk/resilience factors, effects and outcomes of systemic and traumatic stress are reviewed, followed by a discussion of the challenges these pose to fire-fighting organizations. Within this framework, effective workplace wellness and organizational health initiatives need to incorporate three strategic elements: building capacity, increasing resiliency, and supporting positive culture change.”

Read the full article here.

Learning about Mental Health with Dr. Condra

 

“What is Mental Health?” with Dr. Mike Condra

 

 


TEND Associate Dr. Mike Condra is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Queen’s University and has taught in the undergraduate and graduate programs in the Department of Psychology and in the faculties of Education and Law. 

If you’re interested in having Dr. Condra speak at your organization, contact us at info@tendacademy.ca.

Learn more about Dr. Condra’s live training: 

Mental Health: Awareness, Anti-stigma and Helping Skills

The Future of Compassion Fatigue Education: Working Partnerships with Mental Health Professionals

*Reprinted with Permission

The concept of compassion fatigue (CF) has received increased attention in the animal care and welfare professions in recent years. This is a positive trend. Today, thanks to courses such as IAABC’s Animal Behavior Consulting: Principles & Practice, which contains a full module on compassion fatigue, people who work with animals are better able to access resources informing them that they are not alone in feeling depleted or altered by their work as caregivers for people and pets who are stressed, traumatized, sick, and in need of compassionate services.

However, as interest in compassion fatigue continues to grow, it’s important to be mindful of the quality of the resources being created to meet the increasing demand for compassion fatigue education. Just like dog training, compassion fatigue education is an unregulated industry. Anyone can advertise themselves as a compassion fatigue educator; there are no regulations or standardized training programs for this field. A variety of organizations do offer certificates programs for individuals who wish to become compassion fatigue educators. However, this process varies widely from one certifying organization to another, with some training programs being far more in-depth than others.

These certificates can be a good starting point for anyone interested in deepening their understanding of compassion fatigue, particularly management and leadership who wish to become better informed in order to support their staff and volunteers. But for those who intend to pursue a part- or full-time career in the compassion fatigue education field, the certification process alone will likely not be in-depth enough training to adequately build competency in safely engaging other people in this highly emotional, complex work.

Like their counterparts in professional dog training, professional compassion fatigue educators should demonstrate a commitment to ongoing education, support from other professionals, and clearly communicated boundaries that recognize the limitations of their skills and role.

Read the full article below:

The Future of Compassion Fatigue Education: Working Partnerships with Mental Health Professionals

New Curricula Build Resilience in Young Medical Professionals

Maclean’s Magazine recently published an article stating that approximately 29% of young doctors experience symptoms of depression or receive a clinical diagnosis. Why? Part of the problem lies in the immense competition young doctors face to obtain jobs. The culture of residency, where young physicians are often required to work excessive hours to stay competitive, is cited as a major source of mental health deterioration. Perhaps most obvious are the stresses associated with making difficult, life-and-death decisions with little to no experience.

Compounded, these issues are causing a mental health crisis among young health-care providers across Canada, and particularly medical students. Lack of sleep, stress and poor self-care contribute to diminishing mental health. Zane Schwartz writes that there is hope: “Young doctors across Canada are trying to change [the] statistics, encouraging struggling peers to seek support and building programs that make it easier for them to take care of themselves…the new curriculum for the University of Toronto, rolling out this fall, which will include several weeks of resiliency training.” Resiliency training is at the forefront of efforts seeking to help future medical professionals cope with the stresses of their work. At UoT, Shayna Kulman-Lipsey, Manager of Counselling has launched a number of initiatives aimed at breaking the stigma attached to seeking help. She argues that the ability to gain resiliency is dependent, in part, on reaching out to peers for support, which can be difficult in an environment that stigmatizes asking for help as a sign of weakness. If medical students develop the skills to maintain resiliency earlier in their careers, they will be better equipped to take on high-stress workplaces and maintain high levels of patient care later.

In the United States, a similar need has been identified by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). This month, the AAP released a special article in Pediatrics, the Official Journal of the AAP titled “The AAP Resilience in the Face of Grief and Loss Curriculum” authored by a group of physicians from across the United States. According to the publication, The AAP Section on Medical Students, Residents and Fellowship Trainees identified a need to address the management of grief and loss that health care professionals experience throughout their careers. The development of this new curriculum was endorsed and sponsored by the  AAP Section on Hospice and Palliative Medicine.

A large portion of the new AAP curriculum focuses on the physician-patient and physician-family relationship, with modules designed to help pediatric health-care professionals learn to communicate effectively with children and their parents. The last section of the curriculum, Part D: Introduction to Personal Well-Being, has been developed specifically to address physician well-being. Like the folks at UoT, the authors here argue that teaching medical students personal strategies to cope with stressful events in the workplace will promote long-term well-being and resiliency as their careers progress. The new curriculum recommends a Wellness Learning Plan, that “might be incorporated at the beginning of medical school and reviewed with the student’s advisor or mentor quarterly.” While the AAP publication is specific to the experiences of grief and loss, the message is more broad: resiliency is critical in maintaining personal well-being in high-stress, trauma-exposed workplaces. Educating students early in their careers with these types of curricula may offer longer-term prevention of burnout, fatigue and secondary traumatic stress.

To read more about programs for medical students at the University of Toronto, please visit:  http://www.md.utoronto.ca/Annual_Report/learner-experience/resilience

To learn more about the new “AAP Resilience in the Face of Grief and Loss Curriculum”, please visit: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2016/10/06/peds.2016-0791.full.pdf

Maclean’s article: http://www.macleans.ca/education/new-curriculum-addresses-mental-health-for-young-doctors/