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.

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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!

The Rewards of the Work

This will be a super quick post as I have two new workshops to prepare today and am very behind, but I wanted to share a few thoughts about some recent experiences. My past two weeks of work have been so rewarding and fulfilling, and it made me reflect on this concept, which Pearlman and Saakvitne discuss in their amazing little book Transforming the Pain (a book that was truly the cornerstone of the work Robin Cameron and I have done in the field of compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma). At the end of Transforming the Pain, the authors invite readers to reflect and reconnect with the rewards of this work of helping others: What sustains you as a professional, they ask, what helps you reconnect with hope, joy and gets you going every day, to do this deeply challenging work? For me, running the Compassion Fatigue Train the Trainer courses is definitely among the top 5 reasons I do this work.

I just completed two such sessions: One at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and one in Kingston. The second training was an intensive – a three day retreat with a very small group of compassion fatigue educators, the Sinai one was with a larger group of health care workers. It is such a privilege to get to spend several days with these highly motivated trainees who have not only a huge interest in the field but also a vast amount of professional and lived experience themselves. It is not an expert vs student setting, but rather a knowledge exchange where everyone learns from the rest of the group, including (or especially) me. On the second day of the course, participants are asked to design and deliver a teaching component to the remainder of the class. This can be a nerve-wracking experience for those who have never done public speaking before. But every time I run this training, something magical happens on day two: people start owning the material and making it theirs, their voice emerges out of the group and they take a step into the world of becoming a compassion fatigue educator. It’s a truly beautiful thing. Every time this moment in the course comes, I am surprised and overcome with how emotional I feel, how proud I am of the trainees. It  never gets old, after training nearly 500 Compassion Fatigue Trainers and offering the intro course to thousands of others, I am still super jazzed about it. In fact, it’s getting more and more fun as time passes. I think that’s a pretty good sign of a rewarding job, eh?

What is the reward of your work? What gets you up in the morning, and keeps you going in this weird and wonderful work that you do as a helping professional?

How will you navigate the changing landscape of your work?

Has your work changed?

Is there more stress and uncertainty in your job than there used to be?

 

57% of Canadians report high levels of stress

 1/3 Canadians put work first and let it interfere with family

(Duxbury & Higgins, 2012)

 

In 1991, according to the Duxbury study on work-life balance, 46% of Canadians reported being satisfied with life. In 2012, it has plummeted to 23%. As many of you know first-hand, the recent economic downturn has led to significant budgetary compressions in the public purse. As a result, many of us working in the helping fields and in the civil service have experienced massive changes: layoffs, reorganizations, job abolitions, changes in mandate, elevated conflict and a lot of uncertainty and fear of what is yet to come. Over the past ten years, I have crisscrossed the country many times to offer compassion fatigue training in nearly every province and territory. During my workshops, I get to meet with public sector employees, health care workers and other helping professionals as well as with management and human resources. Lately, I have been hearing the same words from nearly everyone I meet:  “change”,  “stress”, “conflict”, “uncertainty” and “overload”.

Is this true for you as well?

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Low Impact Debriefing: Preventing Retraumatization

(This article on Low Impact Debriefing is an updated version of our original 2008 post. Click Here to download a pdf version of the article)

Helpers who bear witness to many stories of abuse and violence notice that their own beliefs about the world are altered and possibly damaged by being repeatedly exposed to traumatic material.

 Karen Saakvitne and Laurie Ann Pearlman, Trauma and the Therapist (1995).

 

After a hard day…

How do you debrief when you have heard or seen hard things? Do you grab your closest colleague and tell them all the gory details? Do your workmates share graphic details of their days with you over lunch or during meetings?

When helping professionals hear and see difficult things in the course of their work, the most normal reaction in the world is to want to debrief with someone, to alleviate a little bit of the burden that they are carrying – it is a natural and important process in dealing with disturbing material. The problem is that we are often not doing it properly – we are debriefing ourselves all over each other, with little or no awareness of the negative impact this can have on our well-being.

Contagion

Helpers often admit that they don’t always think of the secondary trauma they may be unwittingly causing the recipient of their stories. Some helpers (particularly trauma workers, police, fire and ambulance workers) tell me that sharing gory details is a “normal” part of their work and that they are desensitized to it, but the data on vicarious trauma show otherwise – we are being negatively impacted by the cumulative exposure to trauma, whether we are aware of it or not.

Read More

Virtual Book Launch: Audio and Webinar recordings

Here is the audio recording of the Virtual Book Launch held on April 16 2012 of The Compassion Fatigue Workbook.

Thank you to those who attended the live webcast! I was very touched by your emails and your feedback.

Please remember that the book draw, referred to in the audio file was only for the live event and is now closed. If you wish to purchase a copy of The Compassion Fatigue Workbook, you can go to our Store and follow the links.

Thanks! I hope to offer more webinars in the future.

Update: The winner of the book draw is Rhonda Leblanc from Nova Scotia. Thank you to everyone who participated.