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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Balancing our Work and Life while Staying Well – Five Essential Tools

By Françoise Mathieu

This post was initially published on the Oregon OEA Choice Trust website: http://oeachoice.com/5-essential-tools-for-balancing-your-work-and-life-while-staying-well/

I grew up in a family of educators. My parents moved from Montreal to the high arctic in the early 1960s and worked in a variety of schools in very remote Inuit communities for the following decades. Over the years, my father was a teacher and then became school principal, then superintendent and eventually director general of an entire region. He travelled extensively for work, visiting numerous villages for a third of each year, dealing with labour disputes, financial cutbacks and the complex societal challenges facing First Nations communities. My mother co-developed one of the very first teacher training program for Inuit women in Canada.

Needless to say, my parents were very dedicated and hard-working. Education reform and the challenges of the work was daily conversation in our household. Working as educators in small communities presented many challenges and rewards: our house was often the informal hotel, food bank and shelter, and villagers would frequently knock on our door for advice or support.

Are you living in the community that you serve?

If you live and work in the same community, you may have experienced something similar: you go to the grocery store on a Saturday in your sweatpants, and a parent accosts you for advice on their child’s problematic learning difficulties. You go to a party and are immediately grilled on your thoughts about educational policies or the best ways to beat the SATS.

How do you find balance between work and your private life?

I would say, in hindsight, that my parents were frequently completely exhausted at night, and did not know a thing about work-life balance. Being from the War Generation, born in the 1940s, their cohort had not learned about the importance of balance and self-care. For them, you worked until you fell down, and then you got up again and worked some more. They had very little time for themselves. This was the norm among the educators that I knew.

Burnout Research

So how can we find balance working in the education field? How do we learn to set limits so that we can bring our best selves to work and yet not burn out? How do we juggle the competing demands of our home lives and careers?

Notions of self-care are fairly new to the education field. In fact, it wasn’t until the late 1980s that researchers started investigating the concept of work-related burnout among mental health professionals and nurses.  Compassion fatigue, the emotional and physical exhaustion that can lead to a shift in our ability to experience empathy for others is a concept that emerged in the 1990s and lead to the growth of an entirely new field exploring provider wellness.

Here’s what we now know: we cannot expect to work in highly demanding and frequently under-resourced environments without taking some active steps to maintain our emotional and physical health. Some workplaces have implemented some very successful workplace wellness initiatives and we have featured them in our article “Beyond Kale and pedicures” (https://www.tendacademy.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/BEYOND-KALE-AND-PEDICURES-Article.pdf)

The good news is that we now have over 25 years of research that map out what works and steps that we can each take to stay well. I have written extensively on this topic in my book The Compassion Fatigue Workbook and related articles.

Here are my top five favourites:

What works? 5 Key steps

Step one: Take stock

Cheryl Richardson wrote an outstanding book called Take Time for your Life in 1990 which provides a great self-assessment checklist called “What’s draining you?”. Richardson invites readers to identify the main drains on their energy: relationships, environment, body mind and spirit, work and money. Completing this checklist allows you to decide where to begin. Which of these areas is causing you the most stress at the moment? Which area shows the most possibility of improvement?

Step two: Identify your warning signs

How do you know you’re headed for trouble? What are your most recurrent physical warning signs? What about emotional reactions? Have you noticed some predictable behavioural patterns that show up when you’re overloaded? Learning to recognise your top three warning signs can help you catch things early before you become too depleted.

Step three: Pick your battles at work

The field of education is complex, and frequently under-resourced. Some of us deal with these realities more successfully than others. If you work with a colleague or a team that is frequently negative or engage in constant office gossip or naysaying, consider making more strategic alliances in the workplace. Venting once in a while is fine, daily gripe sessions bring nothing constructive to the workplace.

Step four: develop a community of support

Research has shown that social support is one of the best strategies to address compassion fatigue and burnout. Who are your accountability partners? Who do you spend time with at work and at home? Can they be there to help you stay on target with your self-care goals?

Step five: Reassess where you are at regularly

I recently wrote a new year’s resolution blog post on my website: www.tendacademy.ca where I discuss my lack of enthusiasm for new year’s resolutions. Rather than making big commitments once a year, I prefer to have weekly tweaks and adjustments. On Sundays, each week, I take gentle stock: how am I doing? What needs more attention? What needs tweaking?

Conclusion

My parents excelled in their careers, but it took a significant toll on their health and their personal lives. I look back on their work with admiration but also see a cautionary tale of working without balance. We know better now. Where will you start?

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.

Addressing Workplace Stress: A Comprehensive Wellness Imperative for Individuals and Their Organizations

Click here for the pdf.

HUFFPOST, THE BLOG 07/02/2013 06:45 pm ET | Updated Sep 01, 2013 Addressing Workplace Stress: A Comprehensive Wellness Imperative for Individuals and Their Organizations By Patricia Fisher, Megan Cleghorn • • Identifying the most pronounced sources of stress in your life is rarely difficult. However, pinpointing some of the less overt stress triggers is more challenging. Understanding how multiple sources of stress in your life act in concert to create your own individualized risk and resiliency profile is even more complex.

One thing we know with certainty is that your health and wellness cannot be compartmentalized. No area of your life is exempt from impact if one or more other areas of your life are burdened with high stress. Similarly, just as no discrete part of your life is singularly impacted by high-stress exposure, you are not the only one impacted. Your stress level has many consequences for your organization’s health that manifest in terms of direct and indirect costs as well as detrimental effects on the work environment. As a result, your organization has a vested interest in your ability to effectively address stress and burnout, because your wellness drives your organization’s performance. Accordingly, creation of a robust organizational wellness infrastructure and implementation of research and experience based stress-management programs should be embraced as a central operational priority.

A comprehensive approach to stress management requires a thorough understanding of the many sources of stress in your life as well an appreciation of all the sources of support and resilience. This provides a balanced framework to examine the wide-ranging impacts of stress on your physical and mental health, your professional and personal relationships, and your overall capacity to function optimally. Gaining an accurate understanding and awareness of your stress profile supports meaningful actions and the development of a comprehensive wellness plan that will reduce the negative impacts of stress on your mind, body, relationships and performance. Consider the following integral steps to raising awareness and spurring meaningful progress :

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What Does My Risk Profile Look Like?

Gaining an accurate awareness of your stress risk and resiliency profile in your professional and personal life is an important initial step toward enhanced wellness. There will be factors that are supportive and resiliencebuilding and other factors that increase your experienced stress. With respect to your professional life, for example, consider factors such as workload, level of control, job demands, role ambiguity, and compensation and advancement opportunities. Also consider your individual risk factors such as work/family conflict, and your belief in the value of your work. Consider the same in your personal life. This analysis helps you determine how at risk you are to develop stress and trauma symptoms.

How Well Am I Taking Care Of Myself?

Our bodies and minds are not designed to sustain consistent exposure to high levels of chronic stress. Evaluate what you are currently doing to manage your stress professionally and personally. Take a holistic approach to your selfassessment because a balanced lifestyle is central to effective self-care. Often we find that our self-care may be quite good in some areas of our lives and neglected in others. The more balanced we are, the more we are able to cope with the stresses and demands that we face. Unfortunately, many of us find ourselves caught in a tornado of work, family responsibilities, household tasks, and other personal obligations. Life can then become a succession of stressful events, deadlines and obligations, leaving little opportunity for renewal or even for simple pleasures. Consider what steps you are currently taking to manage your self-care physically, psychologically and emotionally, cognitively, behaviorally, interpersonally and spiritually.

What Is My Stress Symptom Profile?

We know that chronic stress plays a central role in the development of stressrelated physical and mental health challenges, cognitive functioning, professional and personal relationships, and the ability to see life with optimism, hope and energy. Once you have established your risk and resiliency profile and your self-care profile, consider your individual profile of stress symptoms and effects, focusing on physical health challenges such as stress-related illness and disease, and mental health consequences such as depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse. It is also essential to probe the specific symptoms you experience relating to job stress, burnout, harassment, and exposure to direct and vicarious trauma.
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Where Do I Go From Here?

In moving from awareness to action, it is essential that you acknowledge and accept the magnitude of your stress symptoms and commit to developing an active and practical wellness plan. That wellness plan should be constructed to allow you to recover from any existing stress effects, to then maintain a level of self-care that matches the level of demands placed on you, and to engage in proactive practices to increase your resilience. Ultimately, to succeed in enhancing your individual wellness and, in turn, your organization’s health, you must build a comprehensive lifestyle that supports and sustains you through work and personal stresses. Sustainability rests on the principle that you have to replace that which has been depleted. If you are going to be a productive, active, effective person and teammate, you need to be well-nourished at all levels. To make durable changes in your professional and personal life, you and your key stakeholders must partner in (1) making a serious commitment to address the impact of stress in your lives, (2) taking responsibility for what you choose to do about your stress-management, and (3) taking action from an attitude of care, concern and respect. We need to clearly understand that for both individuals and organizations to flourish, we must treat our individual and collective wellness as a central operational imperative.

Beyond Kale and Pedicures – Part Five

Part Five: This isn’t About Perfection

To download the complete article, Click here

By Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC.

Mount Sinai: A Success Story and a Work in Progress

Nestled between several much larger health care facilities, Mount Sinai hospital is a 450-bed acute care teaching institution located in the heart of Toronto’s downtown. Like many Jewish hospitals in North America, Sinai was originally created nearly one hundred years ago in response to anti-Semitic discrimination and a lack of services for Jews and other vulnerable groups. Since its inception, Mount Sinai has aimed to stay true to its heritage of offering care to those who need it most, and filling a void for those who have nowhere else to turn. This philosophy has also influenced their approach to staff well-being. Sinai has high rates of employee engagement, and a leadership structure that believes in a culture of employee health at all levels, from the cleaning staff to the CEO. The hospital has developed a series of programs and initiatives such as a stress resiliency course called the “Stress Vaccine”, an online module that is now available to health-care workers worldwide. The hospital has a poet in residence, an active wellness committee, and many initiatives aiming to turn Sinai into a magnet hospital for new staff. They also have a commitment to reviewing the efficacy of their programs regularly, based on employee feedback. Read More

Beyond Kale and Pedicures – Part Four

Part Four: Where are we headed? 

By Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC.

It turns out that wellness practices are probably a great idea for everyone – therapists, circus acrobats and accountants alike. During the past year, I had to research and write this lengthy piece while juggling a busy work and family schedule. I am a writer, a consultant, keynote speaker, business owner and a parent. I travel extensively and have a heavy workload. And so, to cope with this busy time I made sure to exercise daily, practiced yoga several times a week, meditated, ate greens, drank lots of water, avoided excess alcohol and caffeine, tried to get enough sleep, connect with others and have some leisure time. I find that these practices are essential to my well-being. Sure, I can go a few days without them, but I start feeling unwell fairly quickly and that would also be true for many of my overextended civilian friends. Self-care and work-life balance are wonderful tools to manage the pressures of life, and perhaps live a little longer, and it is likely that they are particularly important for those of us who work in high stress, high trauma settings, but it is now clear that these strategies alone cannot compensate for unsustainable caseloads, excessive trauma exposure, toxic work environments and lack of training.

After seven years working as a crisis counsellor in a busy clinic, I quit. Read More

Beyond Kale and Pedicures – Part Three

Part Three: The Climate We Create – The Culture We Feed

By Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC.

Practitioner impairment is a complicated phenomenon and is often the result of a combination of compassion fatigue, burnout, secondary trauma, moral distress and sheer overload from the incredibly hectic lives many of us lead. So, what is the solution? How do we unpack the contributing factors so that we can find a path forward? How do we become, or continue to be, healthy, grounded professionals who also have a life?

In 2008, Toronto-based Kyle Killian’s research confirmed previous preliminary findings suggesting that social support was vitally important for a healthy workplace: “Individuals in the helping professions who reported greater social support suffered less psychological strain, had greater job satisfaction, and greater compassion satisfaction,” Killian wrote. The cruel irony is that one of the first casualties of compassion fatigue and burnout in the workplace is connection with others – we develop a “poverty mentality” and nitpick one another on the length of breaks, or the fact that one person always leaves early to pick up their children at daycare. Unhappy staff engages in office gossip and create cliques where they vent about the inequities of the work, or where they compete to share graphic stories from their trauma cases over the lunch hour. In essence, on the road to burnout, we lose compassion for one another as staff members.

Read More

Beyond Kale and Pedicures – Part Two

Part Two: Does Self Care Work?

By Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC.

Pioneers in the field of compassion fatigue and secondary traumatic stress research say that they were caught off guard by the enthusiastic response that they received when they published their initial findings in the 1990s. One colleague recently told me: “It was a bit like trying to put the toothpaste back into the tube – people were very excited about this new idea of compassion fatigue, and the notion of self-care caught on like wildfire but meanwhile, the field was still in its infancy. There wasn’t even agreement on a name for this phenomenon, let alone what really worked to prevent or reduce it.” In fact, to this day, terminology continues to be hotly disputed: is it burnout, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, secondary trauma, compassion stress, moral distress, empathic strain? Are they one and the same or are they clearly distinct concepts? The debate rages on. Meanwhile, back in the trenches, helping professionals of all stripes were trying to do the best they could while working within an increasingly compromised system.

In the past few years, new research has emerged which suggests that it is time for a more sophisticated understanding of the best ways to manage and reduce CF and STS – one that goes beyond healthy eating and massages. Read More

Summertime reads, recipe and an invitation to stay in touch

Here’s a quick post for you today with three items: new reads, a recipe and an invitation…

It’s finally summer!  This is hopefully a time for you to slow down a bit, enjoy the beautiful weather, have a picnic, maybe go to a local market or outdoor music festival on your day off.

June was a very busy time for me, starting with the wonderful Care4You conference (photos will be posted next week!), a work trip the Florida Panhandle,  and a trek to England to visit family and friends.

Needless to say that by July 1st, I felt the need for a little r&r after all of this excitement.

Whenever I finish a hectic time and need to refuel, I try to go back to the basics: get more sleep, eat more greens and less carbs, ditch the caffeine and get more exercise. Those simple things help keep me grounded, and when I go too long without them I start feeling tired, unwell and irritable. So I went back to read my favourite healthy eating blogs and spent a bit more time in the kitchen juicing and making homemade meals. I came across this weird and wonderful gluten-free bread recipe that I will share with you below. There are also some newly published compassion fatigue articles to recommend, for your time in the hammock!

1) New Reads

I just had two new articles published and a book chapter which I co-wrote with my colleague Leslie McLean from Capital Health Cancer Care, in Halifax.

For Family Caregivers: When the Juggling Act Isn’t Working: 5 Key Strategies to Reduce Compassion Fatigue and Burnout. Fall 2016 Family Caregiver Newsmagazine

For nurses: Occupational Hazards: Compassion Fatigue, Vicarious Trauma and Burnout. Click here

New Book Chapter: Managing Compassion Fatigue, Burnout and Moral Distress in Person and Family Centered Care Click here

 

2) Healthy Eating, Cool Gluten-Free Bread Recipe

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I am a big fan of healthy eating and enjoy reading food blogs for pleasure. My two current favourites are Choosing Raw by Gena Hamshaw, a New York nutritionist, and My New Roots, a beautiful whole food blog by Sarah B. a Canadian who now lives in Denmark but recently spent 6 weeks in Bali (yes, I know, tough). What I like about these bloggers is that they propose easy, fresh recipes without dogma.

Sarah B. posted a crazy-sounding gluten-free bread recipe last year, called “The Life Changing Loaf of Bread” which may seem like a rather bold statement. I was intrigued, but did not have time to gather the ingredients to try it out until yesterday. Well, what a success! This produces a very dense, toastable seed bread. Not suitable for sandwiches but perfect for toasting. Fantastic! Click here for a the link to the recipe.

3)  Join the anti-spam brigade, and make sure you stay on our mailing list!

Finally, an important note to any of you on my mailing list. If you are a Canadian reader, you will likely have been deluged by emails lately from all sorts of businesses asking you to confirm that you wish to continue receiving their emails. A new anti-spam legislation became effective july 1st, 2014 and if you do not confirm your desire to receive emails from us, we will have to remove you to comply with the regulation. So please take a minute to click on the “confirm” button in the email we sent you recently.  Thanks!

Now, I’m going to go watch some tennis and World cup soccer and drink some romaine, cucumber fennel juice. (It sounds weird but it tastes great.)

Here’s wishing you a lovely summer!

Work life balance: A load of bunk?

Happy New Year dear readers!

To say that I have been incredibly busy during the past six months is pretty much the understatement of 2013. Since July, I have worked with folks from L.A. County Courts, cancer care workers in Bermuda, amazing trauma therapists in New Haven, visited Vancouver three times to present to ObGyns and refugee protection staff (not at the same time…)

I also met staff from the UNHCR, presented at a children’s hospital in San Diego and had incredible learning experiences with fantastic helping professionals at Mount Sinai hospital in Toronto.  My wonderful team of associates have also been busy, travelling to Indiana, Newfoundland and also offering a lot of training right here at home in Ontario. We presented on compassion fatigue, secondary and vicarious trauma, self care, conflict, change leadership, and developed a brand new training on rendering bench decisions to refugee claimants.

I also had the chance to co-develop a new workshop with my friend and colleague Leslie Anne Ross, from the Children’s Institute in Los Angeles, called “a Roadmap for Change Agents.” We are firm believers that the best way to promote healthy workplaces is to encourage the emergence of champions in each agency. This was an opportunity to share best practice ideas with folks from various child welfare departments in L.A. County, and encourage them to spread the learning about healthy workplaces.

Yes, it’s been nuts. But it has also been the most professionally rewarding year of my career. I would like to highlight some personal and professional learnings from the past year and see if some of them resonate for you: Read More