Compassion Fatigue

The gift of vicarious trauma

The sun is pouring into my new office, there is about a foot of snow on the ground, the air is crisp and fresh. It’s a glorious day in Kingston, Ontario.

So far this week, I have crossed many things off my to-do list. Tomorrow, I am going to bake a galette des rois with my kids (first time ever – my son’s idea). Today I found out I did not tear a ligament in my knee during the downhill skiing mishap I had last week. Today I had time to drive to my daughter’s school in the middle of the day and bring her some snow pants…

All of those things make me very happy. I’m a cheap date, I know, but working in this field has taught me to appreciate small, daily events. While it is true that trauma work can rob us of our innocence as I have discussed here previously, the flip side is that doing this challenging work can also allow us to take life in fully, right here in this moment, as we know only too well that it can change so abruptly. There are times when that lost innocence is a painful thing: my heart can tug at the wrong times (often during happy personal events) – a sort of survivor guilt that I feel, knowing that so many people don’t get to enjoy those types of moments or that all of this could be gone in a matter of seconds. When this happens, I gently bring myself back, take a deep breath and remind myself that this is the gift of vicarious trauma: to never take things for granted and to cherish the very moment we are in.

If you are regular reader of this blog, you will know that I am a big fan of Leo Babauta, a popular blogger on the topic of simplifying. Leo recently posted a “best of Zen Habits” for 2010. Go take a look and see whether something in his list inspires you to make a change, however simple it may be, for your new year.

Next week, I will be travelling to Dawson City, Yukon, to work with Victim Services staff. I am really looking forward to this!  January will also see a trip to Ottawa to offer the one day Compassion Fatigue workshop, London for a two day train the trainer and Kingston for a workshop with school principals and vps (if you are coming to the Kingston session, remember - NO blackberries welcome in the room unless you are waiting for an organ transplant!) – School principals are the heaviest bb users I have seen so far in the helping field. I understand why, but it drives me to distraction during a self-care workshop. Ahem. No offence…

Listen to this week’s episode of White Coat Black Art: Public Health, Private Lives

Click here for the podcast version of this week’s show, featuring Daniel Carlat, author of the the new book “Unhinged: The Trouble with Psychiatry – A Doctor’s Revelations about a Profession in Crisis”, Dr Raj Sherman, the former Progressive Conservative member in Alberta who was recently booted from caucus because of his openly critical views of the government’s stance towards health care and overcrowding in ERs. Also on the show is Françoise Mathieu talking about chronic stress among health care workers and the cost of caring.

Signing off until the New Year

In the coming weeks, I am cleaning house, so to speak. I purposefully did not book any workshops or trips for the month of December in order to have a chance to refuel and retool and also because I am moving out of my current office which will involve a fair amount of sorting through papers and documents (you know the ones we hold on to “just in case” for ten years?)… I will be signing off until the first week in January as I am taking two weeks off work to be with my family. I am looking forward to lots of cross-country skiing – weather permitting – skating and eating and reading good books.

Here are a few upcoming events, fyi:

Walking the Walk: Creative Tools for Transforming Compassion Fatigue

January 20, 2011. Ottawa, On.

Sponsored by Bruyere Continuing Care. For more information about this program please contact Gabrielle Alarie. Tel: 613-562-6262, ext. 1089.

Compassion Fatigue Train the Trainer

January 24-25th, London, On.

Sponsored by Safeguards for Children and Youth

For more information on the London event, click here.

Compassion Fatigue Train the Trainer

March 29-30th, Kingston, On.

For more information on the Kingston event, please click here


“Le syndrome d’épuisement professionnel n’est cependant ni un prix à payer inévitable, ni un cauchemar redoutable qui devrait tous nous démobiliser. Véritable leçon d’humilitée, il est là aussi pour nous rappeler nos limites, nous faire prendre conscience que nous aussi (et pas uniquement les malades) pouvons craquer, souffrir, baisser les bras, et du coup nous rassembler dans une même “humanité” avec ceux que nous soignons.”

Consoli dans “Le burnout du soignant” (2003)

Standards of Self Care Guidelines

Green Cross Academy of Traumatology – to view the standards of self care guidelines, please click here.

OSSTF/FEESO Questions and Answers

Here is the Q&A from the two November workshops offered to the OSSTF. I have added some resources on anxiety and depression and other mental health links at the end of the document.

Mindfulness meditation resources: I was also sent this wonderful free resource from one of your colleagues:

http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/programs/for-beginners/

Ressources en Francais

Voici une liste de ressources en français sur l’usure de compassion et le traumatisme vicariant. J’offre ici la pdf de l’excellent article de Jan Richardson “Guide sur le Traumatisme Vicariant” dans son intégralité car il est très difficile à obtenir en ligne (et n’est plus disponible par le biais du centre national d’information de violence dans la famille, pour une raison que j’ignore, car c’est un document exceptionnel). J’inclus également le dossier 2007 de la CSST sur le traumatisme vicariant.

Si vous avez de bonnes ressources en francais, n’hésitez-pas à me les envoyer et je les rajouterai à la liste Read more ›

Books for your toolbox: Some great reads to navigate Compassion Fatigue

I have been doing a lot of training this Fall, offering the introductory course on compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma, the Part Two compassion fatigue workshop (a brand new presentation), a series of workshops on mental health, crisis intervention and the compassion fatigue train the trainer. I love doing these presentations as they are always different:  each group has different needs and reactions, and each group has resources that are best suited to them.

I will soon be winding down for the season and taking the month of December off to retool and…read lots of books! I grew up in a book-loving family and the best part of Christmas was always settling down with our new book haul and settling in for hours of pleasure and escapism. We used to go to this wonderful second hand bookstore in Montreal called the Book Nook (sadly, long gone) and do most of our gift shopping there.

In the spirit of the holidays,  here are the books/CDs I would recommend you put on your wish list:

Read more ›

Compassion Fatigue: How do we lay the foundation for wellness?

[...] by developing the deep sense of awareness needed to care for ourselves while caring for others and the world around us, we can greatly enhance our potential to work for change, ethically and with integrity, for generations to come.

Lipsky, 2009

Last week, I had the honour of co-presenting with Dr Gabor Maté at a workshop organised by Gluckstein Law of Toronto – Dr Maté was doing the bulk of the day, and I was closing the event. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to hear the presentation based on his book “When the Body Says No” a second time – I always find that I get something different out of each time I reread a great book, or hear a thoughtful, inspiring speaker present. In fact, the second iteration is often the one where I learn the most. I can’t wait to have Dr Maté present at the Compassion Fatigue Conference in June.

One of the key messages in Dr Maté’s work is on the importance of self awareness – Read more ›

It was high time for a new photo…

I haven’t updated my profile photo in about 7 years, so I thought it was time. (I was getting worried that I would one day get the: “you don’t look a thing like your photo!” – ageing rapidly moving us in one direction only…) But a new photo never seemed to be a priority until last weekend, when my daughter and her close friend decided to do a makeover on me. They were appalled to hear that my normal makeup ritual only involves a 5 year old eyeliner pencil. Apparently that is not considered hygienic (or a beauty routine)! Who knew!

So, hi there! Welcome to my blog (or welcome again if you have been a regular reader). I am in the middle of a busy Fall training season and several projects have been on the go since I came back to work after a nice long summer break. Here’s a sampling: Read more ›