Vicarious Trauma

Care4You Conference Agenda now online!

This will be a quick post as I should really be filing my income tax, right now…

I had a truly wonderful month, with two weeks away which I why I haven’t been blogging. During the second week of March, I was in Hawaii for the IVAT conference, then in Los Angeles to work with the Children’s Law Centre of California and the Children’s Institute.

I won’t lie – getting away from our never ending winter for a few weeks was a treat in and of itself, and doing it in a tropical paradise wasn’t too shabby either. Working with the amazing people at the IVAT conference, CLC and CII was also very rewarding and inspiring – professionals who work in child welfare are often so invisible to the ordinary citizen, and their work is often misunderstood. On the personal front, the highlight was being able to bring my 13 year old son (it was his March break). Getting to spend two weeks with him away from all the distractions of home was very precious. We took a few extra days while in Hawaii and got to explore Maui with friends, cycle down a volcano, hike in a rain forest, and eat delicious fresh fruit with weird names. Awe-inspiring sights: humpback whales everywhere, dolphins, sea turtles, seals… I could just sit on the beach all day and watch it all unfold: spotting water coming the spout of a whale, waiting to see if she leaps out, or shows her us silvery blue tail… I can’t think of a better mindfulness exercise. Here’s a photo from last year’s whale watching amazement:


Whenever things get too hectic, I just picture myself back on that beach, listening to the waves crashing on the shore and I let everything else drop away.

And here are two from our volcano expedition. Doesn’t it look like we are floating on clouds? 10 000 feet up in the air. Stunning. Cute boy too.


Safety First!

Safety First!


Now I am back at the ranch and we just got over a foot of new snow, overnight. Arg! Back to reality.

So, if you are based in the East Coast like me, and need something to distract you from this nutty winter, how about these suggestions:

1) Read, or re-read Laura Ingalls book “The Long Winter” … where they didn’t get a thaw until May, and almost starved, but were saved at the eleventh hour by handsome and tenacious Almanzo and his brave brother. Sigh… I loved The Little House on the Prairies novel series. I was always fascinated by their ingenuity and creating things out of raw materials: got an axe, no problem, we can build a house! I wonder how many of us would be able to cope with the rigors of their time.

2) Start planning for June 3-4, 2014 when the weather will be gorgeous and sunny here in Kingston, and check out the speaker lineup for the Care4You conference, which was just posted a few days ago. Please note that 50% of tickets to attend have already been sold, so if you want to attend this year, don’t delay registering. We will be sharing more details with you shortly, but it’s an impressive agenda: Mindfulness, Solutions for health care professionals, Managing intense work-related stress, Moral Distress, Tapping technique to reduce stress: the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), Mandala workshop, A healthy body for a healthy mind, Building your best teams: Creating a culture of success, A toolkit for caregivers, Self Compassion, Learning from people who make you crazy, Transforming trauma, Improv, and Self care through self-coaching. Go check it out! We will be posting more details in the coming weeks.

Photos 1&2 by A. Molina

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?

A short video: The good and bad news about Resilience

boy lifting weights

I am a huge fan of the Headington Institute, which is a US-based charitable organization whose aim is to provide education, consulting and counselling to humanitarian aid workers and organizations around the globe. Their inspiring and moving vision statement is: “One day, all humanitarian workers will have the personal skills, social support, organizational resources, and public interest needed to maintain their wellbeing and thrive in their work.” Who can argue with that beautiful goal? The Headington Institute provides a wealth of free online training materials. Go check it out by clicking here.

Today, I wanted to share a quick 5 minute video by Clinical Director Dr Don Bosch on “The good and bad news about resilience”.

You can also click here to access a lovely essay by Dr Galen Buckwalter on resilience.

So, go make yourself a nice cup of tea, and come back to enjoy this important reminder of what it is we need to do to stay afloat.



Using the mind/body connection in your workshops

Compassion Fatigue Train the Trainer Retreat Nov 19-21, 2013

Are you a trainer/workshop facilitator? 

Learn how to use the mind/body Connection in your workshops


November 21st:  Morning Session of our three day Compassion Fatigue Train the Trainer intensive

How to use Trauma-Sensitive Mind-Body Work in your trainings and in your Self Care with Lynda Pedley, MBA, Master Integral Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher


In this interactive, experiential session, we will explore the impact of trauma on the body and the phenomenon of somatic memory.  Having illuminated the psychophysiology of trauma, we will look at how you, in your line of work as the caregiver or first responder, can be at risk for compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma and how this may be expressed in your body. We will then create a personalized self-care strategy integrating mind and body.  We will draw on the seminal work of several leaders in the field of psychobiology such as Babette Rothschild, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, Dr. Peter A. Levine, Pat Ogden, and others. You will leave feeling grounded and empowered with practical tools you can use for your own self-care, and the care of your staff or colleagues and your clients.

Learning Objectives

1. To understand how the “body remembers”: the psychophysiology of trauma and vicarious trauma.

2. To identify your own individual risk factors for vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue.

3. To create a personalized self-care plan that fits your unique life.

4. To experience a trauma sensitive approach to yoga and practice some simple and powerful movements you can use in many settings.


Click here to join us 

November 19-21, 2013 

for three days of in-depth training

with Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC. 

*Extensive training materials provided: training dvds, power points and instructor’s manuals.

*Hands-on tools to become a compassion fatigue educator

*How to design a Compassion Fatigue workshop for your audience

*Resiliency skills: What works for individuals and organizations?

*Mapping out a wellness plan for you and your team

*Teaching Practice

*How to use trauma-sensitive mind-body work in your trainings with Lynda Pedley

*Managing high stress, high conflict workplaces with Meaghan Welfare

*Small group consult: How to design a marketing or training plan with Françoise Mathieu

 Unlike past years, we are only offering the Compassion Fatigue Train the trainer Intensive in November this year (It will not be offered in March). It will also be offered as a Webinar in February 2014.

To avoid disappointment, be sure to  register a.s.a.p.



Trauma Sensitive Yoga for Soldiers and Veterans


I worked as a mental health counsellor for a Canadian military base for about a decade. During this time, I saw many soldiers with PTSD – infantrymen, pilots, intelligence officers and other trades, all of whom had been exposed to unspeakable horrors in war-torn countries such as Rwanda, Afghanistan and Bosnia. Many of them struggled with nightmares, anxiety, intrusive thoughts and reintegration into the civilian world. Some treatment modalities helped, some did not. At some point, a new military psychiatrist came into town, and all of a sudden I started hearing of clients being referred to hot yoga and mindfulness meditation (MBSR) classes. This, in the early 2000s, was very unusual in our neck of the woods. Read more ›

Interview: Trauma-Sensitive Yoga for Compassion Fatigue and other healing

deep purple logo

Today, I am delighted to bring you an interview with Yael Calhoun, an E-RTY (Experienced Yoga Teacher, registered through Yoga Alliance) and executive director and co-founder of GreenTREE Yoga, based in Utah. I met Yael in Salt Lake City a few years ago and invited her and her colleague to present at our first annual compassion fatigue conference three years ago. I immediately loved Yael’s approach to yoga and her dedication to bringing yoga to populations who may not necessarily have access to it under normal circumstances. In this interview, Yael describes the tremendous benefits of trauma-sensitive yoga and offers simple techniques to help manage compassion fatigue. At the end of the interview, you will also find resources and links to explore this fascinating topic further. Thank you to Yael for sharing her thoughts and wisdom with all of us! Read more ›

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.


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 ›

Book Review – The Comfort Garden: Tales from the Trauma Unit

Comfort_GardenDo you remember the last time you picked up a book that you could not put down until you had read every last word?

I just had that great pleasure with Laurie Barkin’s book The Comfort Garden: Tales from the Trauma Unit. This is a story of how a dedicated and highly experienced psychiatric nurse found her way into the depths of vicarious trauma and burnout and travelled her way back out again, having learned many important things along the way: Lessons about a dysfunctional health care system, the lack of support often experienced by patients and staff alike, about moral distress, repeated trauma exposure, about the price health care professionals pay when managed care has stripped away the structure that allowed them to do their work safely and ethically.

Sometimes I feel like that’s what we do at the hospital. We hold up the weight of the world. And, in doing so, we hear screams and witness the suffering that sometimes becomes our screams and our suffering, only we choke it back and continue bearing the weight without complaining and without acknowledging that we too need relief. L. Barkin “The Comfort Garden” (2011) Read more ›

Los Angeles Vicarious Trauma Conference Nov 8-9, 2012

Here are the presentation slides from the November 8-9 Vicarious Trauma conference in Los Angeles, as promised. Please consider joining our mailing list to receive notices of upcoming events.

Click here to download slides from keynote presentation

Click here to download slides from workshop

Click here to join our mailing list

Selected Bibliography for Child Protection Workers

 Journal articles on Compassion Fatigue/Vicarious Trauma and Child Protection

For an extensive bibliography, please visit the Child Welfare Information gateway: Secondary Trauma in the Child Welfare Workforce 2000-present. Compiled bibliography:

Bennett, S., Plint, A., & Clifford, T.J. (2005) Burnout, psychological morbidity, job satisfaction, and stress: a survey of Canadian hospital based child protection professionals. Arch. Dis. Child. 90; 1112-1116.

Conrad, D. & Kellar-Guenther, Y. (2003) Compassion Fatigue, burnout and compassion satisfaction among Colorado child protection workers. Child Abuse & Neglect 30(2006) 1071-1080.

Osofksy, J. (2009) Perspectives on helping traumatized infants, young children and their families. Infant mental health journal. Vol. 30(6), 673-677.


Books/Articles on Compassion Fatigue/Vicarious Trauma/Trauma

Baranowsky, A. (2002). The silencing response in clinical practice: On the road to dialogue. In C.R. Figley (Ed.), Treating compassion fatigue. New York: Brunner/Routledge.

Bober, T. & Regehr, C. (2005) Strategies for Reducing Secondary or Vicarious Trauma: Do They Work? Brief treatment and crisis intervention advance access, Dec 30, 2005.

Courtois, C.A., & Ford, J.D. (2009). Treating complex traumatic stress disorders. New York: Guilford Press.

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. (2002). Compassion fatigue: A crucible of transformation. Journal of Trauma Practice, 1(3/4), 37–61. Note: To obtain a PDF of this article, simply Google “Gentry crucible of transformation” and download the article from his Web site:­ (For some reason, visiting his Web site directly does not work but using Google does.) Do not download the version from Gift From Within as it is not the complete article.

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

Mathieu, F. (2012). The compassion fatigue workbook: Creative tools for transforming compassion fatigue and vicarious traumatization. New York: Routledge.

McCann, I.L., & Pearlman, L.A. (1990). Vicarious traumatization: A framework for under­standing the psychological effects of working with victims. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 3, 131–149.

Pearlman, L.A., & Saakvitne, K.W. (1995). Trauma and the therapist: Countertransference and vicarious traumatization in psychotherapy with incest survivors. New York: W.W. Norton.

Remen, R.N., (1996). Kitchen table wisdom. New York: Riverhead Books.

Richardson, J. (2001). Guidebook on vicarious trauma: Recommended solutions for anti-violence workers. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: National Clearinghouse on Family Violence.

Rothschild, B. (2006). Help for the helper: The psychophysiology of compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma. New York: W.W. Norton.

Saakvitne, K.W., & Pearlman, L.A. (1995). Treating therapists with vicarious traumati­zation and secondary traumatic stress disorders. In C. Figley (Ed.), Compassion fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress disorder in those who treat the trau­matized. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

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.

Stamm, B.H. (Ed.). (1999). Secondary traumatic stress: Self-care issues for clinicians, researchers, and educators (2nd Ed.). Lutherville, MD: Sidran Press.

van Dernoot Lipsky, L. & Burke, C. (2009). Trauma stewardship: An everyday guide to caring for self while caring for others. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.