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.

Warning signs of Vicarious Trauma/Secondary Traumatic Stress and Compassion Fatigue

The information in this article is adapted from “The Compassion Fatigue Workbook

Click here for downloadable PDF to share with your organization

 

Learning to recognise one’s own warning signs of compassion fatigue (CF) and vicarious/secondary trauma (VT/STS) serves a two-fold purpose:

First, it can serve as an important check-in process for someone who has been feeling unhappy and dissatisfied, but does not have the words to explain what is happening to them.

Secondly, developing a warning system allows you to track your levels of emotional and physical depletion. It also offers you tools and strategies that you can implement right away.

 

Developing a Warning System

 

Say that you were to learn to identify your CF/STS symptoms on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the worst you have ever felt about your work/compassion/energy, and 1 being the best that you have ever felt).

Then, you learn to identify what an 8 or a 9 looks like for you i.e. “when I’m getting up to an 8, I notice it because I don’t return phone calls, think about calling in sick a lot and can’t watch any violence on TV” or “I know that I’m moving towards a 7 when I turn down my best friend’s invitation to go out for dinner because I’m too drained to talk to someone else, and when I stop exercising.”

Being able to recognize that your level of CF/STS is creeping up to the red zone is the most effective way to implement strategies immediately before things get worse.

But look back to what also emerges in this process: you are starting to identify the solutions to your depletion.

If I know that I am getting close to an 8, I may not take on new clients with a trauma history, I may take a day off a week, or I may return to see my own therapist.

In order for you to develop your warning scale, you need to develop an understanding and an increased awareness of your own symptoms of compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma/STS.

For a more complete list of Warning Signs, have a look at the Compassion Fatigue Workbook or Compassion Fatigue 101 Course.

 

Three Levels of Symptoms

 

In their book Transforming the Pain, Saakvitne and Pearlman (1996) have suggested that we look at symptoms on three levels: physical, behavioural and psychological/emotional. As you will see, there is often overlap between these categories.

Take a look at the list below and notice which ones are your most frequent warning signs:

Physical Warning Signs

  • Exhaustion
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Increased susceptibility to illness
  • Sore back and neck
  • Irritable bowel, GI distress
  • Rashes, breakouts
  • Grinding your teeth at night
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hypochondria

Behavioural Signs

  • Increased use of alcohol and drugs
  • Anger and Irritability at home and/or at work
  • Avoidance of clients/patients
  • Watching excessive amounts of TV/Netflix at night
  • Consuming high trauma media as entertainment
  • Not returning phone calls at work and/or at home
  • Avoiding colleagues and staff gatherings
  • Avoiding social events
  • Impaired ability to make decisions
  • Feeling helpless when hearing a difficult client story
  • Impostor syndrome – feeling unskilled in your job
  • Problems in personal relationships
  • Difficulty with sex and intimacy due to trauma exposure at work
  • Thinking about quitting your job (not always a bad idea by the way!)
  • Compromised care for clients/patients
  • Engaging in frequent negative gossip/venting at work
  • Impaired appetite or binge eating

Emotional/Psychological Signs

  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Negative self-image
  • Depression
  • Increased anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Impaired appetite or binge eating
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Guilt
  • Reduced ability to feel sympathy and empathy towards clients or family/friends
  • Cynicism at work
  • Anger at work
  • Resentment of demands being put on you at work and/or at home
  • Dread of working with certain clients/patients/certain case files
  • Diminished sense of enjoyment/career(i.e., low compassion satisfaction)
  • Depersonalization – spacing out during work or the drive home
  • Disruption of world view/heightened anxiety or irrational fears
  • Intrusive imagery (You can read an excellent description of this in Eric Gentry’s Crucible of Transformation article).
  • Hypersensitivity to emotionally charged stimuli
  • Insensitivity to emotional material/numbing
  • Difficulty separating personal and professional lives
  • Failure to nurture and develop non-work related aspects of life
  • Suicidal thoughts

Suicidal or hopeless thoughts? Get help: Remember that no matter how stressful and/or traumatic our work, it is not a normal consequence of VT/STS to experience suicidal thoughts or prolonged bouts of depression or hopelessness. Please seek help as soon as you notice these symptoms in yourself. If you are worried about confidentiality, or unsure where to turn, please consult online sources of support. There are urgent suicide support hotlines available 24/7. Don’t suffer alone. Get help. You deserve it and so do the people who love you.

Check out this additional post for more information on symptoms: Extra Information on Signs and Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma

 

Take Stock

 

Once you have read through and circled your most frequent warning signs, try and identify your top three most frequent signs. I call them the “Big Three”. Are they all physical, emotional or behavioural, or do you see a mixture of signs from each category? Would you say that you are currently in the Green (healthy), Yellow (warning sign) or Red zone with your overall functioning?

Now, ask a loved one or close colleague to share with you what they think your “Big Three” warning signs are, at home and at work.

 

Next Steps

 

Each warning sign has specific tools that can help reduce your levels of stress. For example, if you are experiencing a lot of secondary exposure-related symptoms, you may wish to examine your caseload or the availability of debriefing and grounding strategies. You may also  need to assess the level of extraneous trauma images and stories that you are exposing yourself to in your personal life.

If you have a lot of emotional symptoms, you may consider consulting with a well-trained mental health professional who is familiar with vicarious trauma and the nature of the work that you do.

Continue reading: Tools to Reduce Vicarious Trauma, Secondary Trauma, and Compassion Fatigue

Need more resources? Check out our online courses.

 


Resources for Individuals

 


Sources:

Figley, C.R. (Ed). (1995) Compassion Fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress disorder in those who treat the traumatized. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Figley, C.R. (Ed.). (2002) Treating Compassion Fatigue, New York: Brunner/Routledge.

Gentry, E. J., (2002) Compassion Fatigue: A Crucible of Transformation in Journal of Trauma Practice, Vol 1. No. 3/4. pp.37-61.

Killian, K. (2008). Helping till it hurts? A multimethod study of compassion fatigue, burnout, and self care in clinicians working with trauma survivors in Traumatology, (14, 2) 32-44.

Mathieu, F (2012) The Compassion Fatigue Workbook – New Revised and Expanded Edition

Van Dernoot Lipsky, L. (2009) Trauma Stewardship: A guide to caring for self while caring for others. BK Publishers.

Saakvitne, K.W.; Pearlman, L. A., & the Staff of the Traumatic Stress Institute (1996): Transforming the pain: A workbook on vicarious traumatization. New York: W.W. Norton.

 

© Françoise Mathieu 2017

 

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.

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 :

2

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.
3

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.

Q&A: Diana Tikasz on WTF and Other Strategies to Keep You Grounded

Tend Associate Diana Tikasz, MSW, RSW, has created WTF and Other Strategies to Keep You Grounded. It will be released this upcoming spring and sp Francoise caught up with Diana to ask her about the workshop, her inspiration and what participants could expect from this training.

Q: What inspired you to develop this workshop?

A: This workshop was developed out of my own personal struggles in my career as well as hearing from numerous workshop participants about similar struggles.  As a trauma therapist in health care settings for the last 26 years, I have experienced numerous WTF moments.  These moments tended to go one of two ways; 1. I would be hijacked by my emotions (usually fear or anxiety) or, 2. I would completely shut down by becoming forgetful, not hearing my clients or just feeling completely numb.  When these moments turned into weeks, I noticed it was incredibly difficult to get through my work day or even engage fully with my family, friends or life in general.   I questioned whether I needed to leave a career that I loved.   It didn’t seem possible to me that I could do my work and also stay emotionally and physically well.

Before taking the drastic step of career change I decided to try to learn to work differently.  My training as a social worker taught me well the techniques to help others; it just didn’t train me on the necessity of applying these techniques to help myself.  This I had to discover on my own.

This workshop is a compilation of some theory but mainly techniques in how to weather the inevitable WTF moments and storms. It is about learning a process that will not only build our resilience, but also our personal growth and enjoyment in our careers.  I have come to view doing helping work as a privilege (mostly) rather than a chore.  Work is not a means to an end but meaningful in and of itself.  We need to enjoy the journey and not just hang in there until retirement.   This workshop is designed to give folks more time to reflect and learn tools that not only help them weather the WTF storms, but also allow them to navigate the ship to be able to enjoy the journey to its fullest.

Q: What kind of skills or strategies will participants gain from attending this workshop?

A: Participants will learn a framework that will help them to continuously self-monitor.  This framework is grounded in neuro-science and will guide us so that we maintain our own emotional well- being.  It’s a framework that guides us to work within our optimal zone and fosters our ability to bounce back quickly after a WTF moment takes us out of that zone.  In this zone we feel calm yet energized, healthy and creative in our work.

The majority of the day will be spent learning and practising various strategies in a detailed way that helps us keep perspective, stay connected and present.  These strategies include:  learning how to quickly tap into our own personal resources as well as develop new ones; utilize tools that that help us self-regulate and recover; methods for gaining and maintaining perspective; skills in being fully present, aware and connected to our compassion.   These techniques will encompass the whole self as I find 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.

Q: Who would most benefit from this workshop?

A: 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.  I often say that helping work is even more difficult when the professional is going through their own personal stresses.   Again, 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.

Thanks, Diana!!

 

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