Compassion Fatigue

Walking the Walk Workshop coming to Montreal and Toronto in 2012

With Françoise Mathieu

Sponsored by the Hincks Dellcrest Centre

Montreal, February 7th 2012, McGill Faculty Club and Conference Centre, 3450 McTavish Street, Montreal.

February 5, 2012 update: please note the Montreal Workshop scheduled for Feb 7th has been postponed to the Fall. The date will be set shortly

Toronto, March 29, 2012, Oakham House, Ryerson University. 63 Gould Street, Toronto.

Click here to register

Small steps are the only way to go

Wow, how did it get to be the middle of October? I didn’t think my early Fall months looked too busy (on paper at least) and yet I haven’t had a chance to post my weekly blog as I normally do. It’s been incredibly hectic for all sorts of reasons. One of them is that my children, who are now teen and preteen need a lot more one on one time than they did a few years ago. Does that seem strange? – it makes sense to me: they are incredibly autonomous but not independent. They can dress themselves, make their lunches (sometimes) and spend hours on their own without supervision, but they need lots of driving to various places and a whole lot of support around homework and other life issues (Grade 9 math, anyone?). I love spending time with them and try to make it a priority, which means that other things go to by the wayside. But I know this is only a short phase of life – according to my eleven year old son,  I will soon have a lot of time on my hands. Yesterday, he said to me: “In five years, mom, you’ll be all alone!” Thanks, honey, for that cheery thought.

I’ve also just finished proofreading the new edition of the Compassion Fatigue Workbook which is coming out in January with Routledge. Stay tuned for that! Just playing with front cover designs now. It’s a funny process as I don’t have complete carte blanche in the decision-making process but have to negotiate with the publishers and accommodate their needs. So I hope the result will fit with my personality and style, but hey, it’s not a sofa, it’s a book, so at some point one needs to let it go and not worry whether the cover will repel firefighters and other law enforcement folks. If you had seen the first mock-up, you’d understand what I’m talking about. Pinky-peachy tones, anyone?

I am now busy preparing the second Compassion Fatigue Conference in June 2012. Keynote speakers will be Joan Borysenko, Linda Duxbury and Paul Huschilt. I will post more about the conference later on this week but it promises to be a very exciting gathering. Last year was absolutely amazing. I’ll share some of the feedback on the June 2011 event with you in a future blog post.

Workshop-wise, I’ve just come back from the Yukon where I continue to work with Victim Services. The department of Justice in the Yukon has implemented a program of capacity building where we have trained some of their own staff to become compassion fatigue educators so that they can, in turn, go to the communities and deliver the program to community service workers of all stripes. I have been so impressed by the quality of the trainers and their knowledge of community issues which are very complex – small First Nations villages grappling with the legacy of the Residential Schools, multigenerational trauma, complex tribal politics, recent tragedies, rich cultural heritage and traditions to respect. It is challenging and rewarding work.

This Fall, I also presented to credit counsellors, AIDS workers, hospital staff and am now working with the National Parole Board staff. My next trip is to London, Ontario to take part in the “Brain, Mind and Body” Conference which is being held October 20-22, 2011 and will feature Ruth Lanius, Pat Ogden and Bessel van der Kolk as speakers. Then, next trip is to Los Angeles (yes, I know, my diamond shoes are too tight) for the National Conference on Vicarious Trauma being offered by the Children’s Institute in L.A. I am bringing my kids with me and tacking on four days in Washington, D.C. on the way home to connect with my partner who is attending a conference. Many amazing museums to visit! Then it’s back to reality with three days of training right here in Kingston and some more local work.

Once the travelling slows down, I am hoping to turn my attention to developing more web-based resources. I know that professional development dollars are scarce and that many of you are feeling the squeeze. Web-based learning is not a substitute for the richness of live workshops and the connecting and respite that face-to-face training provides, but it’s a good way to learn some skills. When it comes to compassion fatigue and burnout management, the best online course available is my colleague Pat Fisher’s ecourse “When Working Hurts” which was recently released and has received rave reviews. Click here for more information on “When Working Hurts”.

Ok, now that this lengthy update is complete, here is my blog post!

Small Steps are the only Way To go

Those of you who have attended my workshops know that I always talk about improving our self care  in small increments. In fact, some of my first blog posts talk about this. I refer to it as the 1% change vs 100% change. A 100% change is running a marathon when you have never exercised whereas a 1% change is walking around the block tonight after dinner and trying to do that as often as possible. I like 1% changes because they are realistic and achievable. Many of us are not particularly good at setting realistic goals – we tend to go all out: “I will never drink again” (heard on many sofas on New Year’s day), “That’s it, the diet starts today” (on the day after Thanksgiving). Have you ever been to a fitness centre in January? What do you see? It’s packed with people who have made new resolutions to get fit and lose weight. Go back in March, who is still there? Very few of them.  The problem with this is that the goal doesn’t fit with our real lives and we set ourselves up for failure - we set our goals much too high, end up feeling deprived or overwhelmed and then we stop. In the field of nutrition and weight loss, this is referred to as the “what the hell phenomena” as in: “There was nothing healthy to eat at the conference so I broke down and ate a cookie, so what the hell,  I might as well eat five danishes.” Are you familiar with this experience? I think we all are.

How about we start thinking of positive things we can add to our lives rather than things to deprive ourselves of?

1) What area of your life is out of balance? I invite you to think about which area of your life causes you the most stress and worry right now? Is it financial? Your health? Family and friends? Work? Your home environment? You likely have more than one, but pick one area for the time being.

2) Details, details:  Now, think in more detail about the category you have chosen. What about this issue is causing you stress? (E.g. “I am overwhelmed by having to juggle looking after my ageing mother, who needs to be driven to many medical appointments, my kids’ needs and my work.”)

3) Imagine a small change: Can you think of a 1% change you could make to lessen the stress? This change can be very small. For example, you could decide that you are going to ask someone else in your family to drive your mother to her doctor’s appointment once a month instead of doing them all. Or you could decide that the next time you drive your daughter to hockey, you will sit in the car during her practice and listen to a relaxation CD for 10 minutes instead of freezing at the arena. You get the idea.

4) Make the commitment tangible. The best way to follow-through on a commitment is to tell someone else. We sometimes call them accountability partners. Ask a friend or a loved one to hold you gently and lovingly accountable to your 1% change commitment and encourage them to follow-up with you in a week’s time.

More on this: In his latest blog, ZenHabit writer Leo Babauta writes about making small changes that completely transformed his life. Read it here

If you would like to commit to a 1% change, write about it here! Let us know what your commitment is going to be for the coming week.


New online Course! When Working Hurts

I am delighted to announce that my esteemed colleague Dr Pat Fisher has launched her new online course: “When working hurts – effectively addressing stress in trauma-informed workplaces.” In my opinion, this is such a timely e-course. There is no program out there that even comes close to matching this course’s depth, breadth and quality. With this e-course, we get to benefit from Dr. Fisher’s many years of experience in the field of trauma and organizational health. In my opinion, taking this course should be required for all human service personnel, front line staff, health care workers, law enforcement and other high stress professions. I am fully endorsing this online training and have become an affiliate site for anyone wishing to purchase it. See below for more information.

When Working Hurts: Effectively Addressing Stress in Trauma-Informed Workplaces
How to stay well while you are doing valuable work

By Dr Pat Fisher,  R.Psych., L.Psych.


Online Course When working hurts




E-Course (15 hrs.)

Released Aug. 2011

Cost: $243.95




Get instant access now


This cutting edge E-course has been made possible by recent innovations in E-learning technology, combined with the remarkable advances in new research along with our rich experience with program participants over the past decade. We know so much more now about the mechanisms of stress and trauma, and the wide-ranging physical, psychological and interpersonal impacts. We also know much more about how to effectively manage these specialized stresses and how to recover from their harmful effects.

Based upon our very successful Workplace Wellness Group Program for trauma-informed workplaces, this E-Course provides:

  • A sophisticated understanding of the mechanisms and effects of workplace stress and trauma in your environment
  • Tools to identify the sources of resilience and risk in your workplace and personal life
  • Self-assessment profiles of your current risk for workplace systemic and traumatic stress
  • Self-assessment profiles of your current levels of self-care in your personal and work life
  • Self-assessment profiles of your current levels of stress symptoms and effect
  • Tools to develop an effective and practical wellness plan for your personal life
  • Tools to develop an effective and practical wellness plan for your work life
  • Techniques to identify the barriers to your self-care and ways to overcome them
  • A framework to guide you and your coworkers as you develop realistic and effective strategies for your workplace


Dr. Patricia Fisher, R.Psych., L.Psych.

Dr. Patricia Fisher is a clinical psychologist and the president and founder of Fisher & Associates Solutions. As a long time trauma specialist, over the past 15 years she has focused her attention on the impact and mechanisms of workplace stress in trauma-informed workplaces. She has been active as a clinician, researcher, and consultant, with applications in program design, curriculum development, organizational planning, and policy development. She has authored 6 texts and numbers of research papers on the subject of trauma-informed occupations, and is a frequent presenter at international conferences and professional meetings. Dr. Fisher’s work has focused on the needs of organizations and personnel in high risk areas such as health care, human and social services, law enforcement, corrections, emergency services, and the military. Her assessment protocols, training programs, and consultation services are all firmly grounded in contemporary research and best practices. Dr. Fisher is one of the leaders in Organizational Health and Workplace Wellness in trauma-informed environments in Canada, and has provided assessment and consultation to many organizations from the high stress and trauma sectors across Canada and internationally. Since 2000, she and her associates have given many hundreds of training workshops to staff and managers in high stress and trauma sectors in Canada and abroad.

Cost: $243.95 for 15 hours of online training. Work at your own pace.

Click here to sign up for the course or to find out more information.

Musings following the conference….

I hope you won’t mind if I spend a few minutes telling you about what a phenomenal, wonderful job I have! Being self-employed can be tough: no benefits, no sick pay, no job security and way more work hours a day than any salaried employee can imagine. On the flip side, the flexibility is priceless (I am now off for the whole summer – other than keeping up with my emails) and the rewards of my job are too many to enumerate. It is a deeply engaging and satisfying job.

Before this week’s Compassion Fatigue Conference, I wasn’t entirely sure that it would be realistic to have it be an annual event. I wasn’t sure how many people would come and whether they would be nearly as excited about the slated topics as I was. Well, let me tell you, I am now entirely sure that it will be an annual event. 175 participants came this year and the vibe was electric. One of our keynote speakers, Dr Gabor Maté told me after his talk “I loved the energy of this group”, there was something pretty special in the air.

I will write a more in-depth post mortem of the conference next week but for now I am taking a little break and turning into a soccer mom for the weekend. Thank you to everyone who came, to my friend Robin for looking after everything, to the volunteers, to my associates, to Caversham booksellers for doing such a stellar job and to the fabulous presenters who made this such a success. Thank you also to all my friends on whom I relied for childcare this week as my usual support system was off in Europe. Nothing like finding a sleepy eleven year old on your doorstep while you watch the back of my station wagon driving away. Thanks to my kids (all three of them, biological and surrogate) for their patience as I tried to be a good mom while juggling a few too many things. I learned a bit more about delegating this week and it’s a very good thing to do. I could get used to it.

I am already thinking about next year’s conference, that’s a great sign, I think.

Trauma Stewardship: A must read for trauma workers

I am currently revising the Compassion Fatigue Workbook as it is going to be published by Routledge in the Fall (very exciting!). So I have re-immersed myself in the literature to make sure I am not missing anything and to see where I can improve the book (that’s a risky process as it could be endless. There is always room for improvement!…It’s a perfectionist’s nightmare. Thank goodness for deadlines, in a way).

As part of this process, I am re-reading Laura van Dernoot  Lipsky’s wonderful book Trauma stewardship. Laura’s book fills a real void in the field of vicarious trauma resources. Laurie Ann Pearlman and her colleagues had given us the cornerstone books Transforming the Pain and Trauma and the Therapist, but we were in dire need for a book which provided concrete steps to help us navigate the challenging field of trauma work. I wrote the first edition of the compassion fatigue workbook a year before Lipsky’s book was published so I didn’t have a chance to include her wisdom and insights in the workbook. I get to rectify that, this time around.

Read more ›

Tired or depleted?

An overloaded tree in Watson Lake, Yukon

Hi, I’m back! My blog has been quiet as I was on the road pretty much the whole month: I spent a week in the Yukon with Victim Services, a week in Cuba for a holiday with family, two days in Ottawa running a Train the Trainer session, what felt like ten minutes in Halifax for a workshop with Victim Services and finally three days of training in Kingston. Hectic? You bet. Rewarding and replenishing? Absolutely.  I am often told “Françoise, you are a busy person” and I would agree that I tend to like things on the active side, but there is a tremendous difference between being busy and being overwhelmed. I think it really depends on the nature of what you are doing and how much support you have at home.

Read more ›

Time for an update in the Compassion Fatigue Solutions world

It’s raining here in Kingston today, a big melting mess of slush and ice and water…I had a meeting with my bank guy today and he recently immigrated from the Dominican Republic. I can tell you, he wasn’t feeling the love for Canada this morning!

I wanted to give you an update of the various activities/projects that are happening in our little company. Read more ›

New data: Mindfulness Stress Reduction leads to changes in grey matter

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a holistic mind/body approach developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachussets Medical Center in 1979. MBSR is “[...] based on the central concept of mindfulness, defined as being fully present to one’s experience without judgment or resistance”. (Cohen-Katz et al, 2005) The MBSR program recommends using meditation, yoga, relaxation training as well as strategies to incorporate these practices into every day life. To read more about MBSR, click here.

A recent article from the Globe and Mail suggest that MBSR may also lead to changes in our grey matter. Click here to read G&M article.

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.