The Trauma Lines Blog

Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists

Archive for April 2010

Conference Preview: “Burned out – How I learned about the cost of caring”

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We have a rare treat for our readers: a presenter at ATSS’ 2010 conference — Safely in Our Hands:  Helping Our Helpers Stay Healthy — has agreed to provide us with a short preview of the topic she will be presenting on.

Compassion Fatigue Specialist Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC. , has agreed to give us a sample of what you can look forward to at this year’s conference. Essentially, the following contribution by Françoise Mathieu speaks to the essence of what this year’s conference in Toronto is all about: keeping our “helpers” — those who have dedicated themselves to helping others — healthy. 

The following article, “Burned out – How I learned about the cost of caring,” was originally published in the Open Mind Newspaper, 2010:

In the late 1990s I started working at a university counselling centre as a crisis counsellor and worked there for seven years. As a crisis worker, I was exposed to a very high volume of clients and with an incredible range of life issues– from complex sexual abuse stories that the clients had never disclosed before, to survivors of war traumas, to people coming for help in the middle of a full psychotic episode. Drastic province-wide budget cuts also meant that referral resources in the community were dwindling and I was often left dealing with highly complex problems with very few resources.

During my first few years as a crisis worker, I did not really notice that I was being profoundly affected by my work. I enjoyed what I did, yet I often felt exhausted both physically and emotionally at the end of my day. I often avoided social events and did not return calls from friends. I also started having a twisted view of the world – when you hear terrible stories all day, you start seeing the world as a terrible place.

During my final two years at the counselling service, I was increasingly irritable with my colleagues. I resented the fact that they took lunch breaks while I was working nonstop, and I felt angry at the cheerful and positive attitude of our support staff.

This emotional exhaustion and irritability with coworkers can be symptoms of compassion fatigue, a specialized form of burnout that can affect helping professionals. Interestingly, research shows that individuals in the early stages of compassion fatigue work harder rather than less. They can appear to be the most dedicated of staff, take on extra responsibilities, come to work early and leave late.

Helpers with early compassion fatigue often describe feeling overwhelmed with the workload, and say they have great difficulty setting limits and going home at the end of a shift. They often worry about their patients/clients and sometimes feel guilty about going home to a better environment than their clients’ own situations.

The reality for most helping professionals is also that we are doing more work with less and less resources. It can be very difficult to send someone away who is clearly in need but for whom we have nothing to offer. I was turning people away on a daily basis in my work as a crisis counsellor, and that was probably the most difficult aspect of my job. It felt completely contradictory to my reasons for choosing this line of work.

I have now been in the field for nearly twenty years, and I love my work more than ever. What I have learned is that several key elements need to be in place for me to keep doing a good job without being damaged by the work: I need to exercise regularly, I need enough sleep, I need to see a mixture of clients and not face the same type of issues day in and day out. I try to limit my direct time with clients to three days a week as often as possible, in order to have a day to read and prepare workshops and another day to recuperate and renew myself.

As a result of these experiences, I started researching strategies to deal with compassion fatigue and burnout. I have spent the past decade educating other helpers about the risks associated with compassion fatigue and burnout. Data shows that compassion fatigue is something that happens to helpers because they care – it is not a sign of weakness or incompetence. We must open our hearts in order to help others, but we must also develop ways to protect ourselves so that we can stay healthy while remaining in this challenging and rewarding field.

For more on Françoise Mathieu, be sure to check out her blog CompassionFatigueSolutions.Blogspot.Com.

Questions for Françoise? Leave a comment below and we’ll be sure to pass them on.

“Haiti: Three Months After the Earthquake”

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As soon as we saw this video (courtesy of Doctors Without Borders) we had to share it with our readers.

Here’s an update of how the country of Haiti is coping just three months after their devastating earthquake:

Written by traumalines

April 23, 2010 at 5:00 pm

When Families Grieve — Helping Kids Cope with Death

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Approximately 2.5 million children under the age of 18 have experienced the death of a parent. Furthermore, according to the Defense Department, in our recent time of war, “more than 12,000 military children have experienced the death of a parent.”

How can we help these grieving children? To help respond to this increasing need, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street has launched When Families Grieve:

“Sesame Workshop has always been at the forefront of creating resources for families with young children to help address some of life’s most difficult issues.” said Gary E. Knell, President and CEO of Sesame Workshop. “When Families Grieve is Sesame Workshop’s contribution to all those who face the daunting challenge of helping a child cope and heal from the painful reality of a death of a loved one. We are honored by the families who share their very personal stories so others can learn and benefit from their journeys.”

When Families Grieve premiered as a one hour television special on PBS on April 14. Here’s the ‘exclusive preview’:

Click here to learn more about When Families Grieve.

Written by traumalines

April 22, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Denim Day USA — 4/21/10

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The goal at Peace Over Violence (POV) is to “spread awareness about sexual violence prevention by educating.” For over 10 years, POV has helped do so by organizing and promoting something called “Denim Day USA.”

Every year since 1999 Peace Over Violence has organized Denim Day in LA & USA. It is a rape prevention education campaign, where we ask community members, elected officials, businesses and students to make a social statement with their fashion statement and on this day wear jeans as a visible means of protest against misconceptions that surround sexual assault.

By wearing denim tomorrow you can “Send a message to survivors that you support them in their healing.” can tell you more about how you can make a difference and how you can help make tomorrow a success.

Readers: Share your ideas on how we can help raise awareness for the prevention of sexual violence.

Written by traumalines

April 20, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Women in the War Zone

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As women become more involved in the armed forces, the need for female-veteran services has become much more apparent. “The influx of female veterans from the war zones is understandable, as women in combat have become fairly common,” writes Roger Neumann of the Star-Gazette.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has a great video that “presents the many trauma treatment options available to women Veterans …”

Hosted by Jane Pauley, distinguished television news anchorwoman and journalist, the video examines how women’s deployment to war zones can lead to stress responses. Testimonials by women Veterans offer proof that treatment does make a difference and can help the Veteran return to normal life.

The video also describes the considerable contributions of women in service to their country.

 Toward the end of last year, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki announced that the VA would begin a four-year study that would examine the effects that the Vietnam War had on female veterans’ physical and mental health.

“One of my top priorities is to meet the needs of women Veterans,” said Secretary Shinseki.  “Our Veterans have earned the very best care.  VA realizes that women Veterans require specialized programs, and this study will help VA provide high-quality care for women Veterans of the Vietnam era.”

According to the VA:

Women Veterans are one of the fastest growing segments of the Veteran population.  There are approximately 1.8 million women Veterans among the nation’s total of 23 million living Veterans.  Women comprise 7.8 percent of the total Veteran population and nearly 5.5 percent of all Veterans who use VA health care services.  VA estimates women Veterans will constitute 10.5 percent of the Veteran population by 2020 and 9.5 percent of all VA patients.

In recent years, VA has undertaken a number of initiatives to create or enhance services for women Veterans, including the implementation of comprehensive primary care throughout the nation, staffing every VA medical center with a women Veterans program manager, supporting a multifaceted research program on women’s health, improving communication and outreach to women Veterans, and continuing the operation of organizations like the Center for Women Veterans and the Women Veterans Health Strategic Healthcare Group.

Readers: What services do female veterans need more than their male counterparts?–Bath-VA-to-open-women-s-health-clinic

Written by traumalines

April 15, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Holocaust Remembrance Day

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 As an honor and a remembrance to all those affected by the Holocaust, and as part of Holocaust Remembrance Day, we wanted to republish one of the first blog posts on “A Father’s Journey from a Daughter’s Perspective.”

‘A Father’s Journey,’ written by ATSS member Deborah Donnelly, is the story of a Holocaust survivor’s “never ending road of healing” told through his daughter’s eyes. Donnelly, a social worker of nearly 28 years, was honored to walk alongside her father as he came to terms with the trauma he spent so many years ignoring:

There is a name for who I am: a “2G.”  A “2G” means that my parents are Holocaust survivors. It was an eye opening experience for me when I found out that there was a label that both describes and has come to define a significant aspect of my belief system. It has become my passion to strive to accept people for who they are, and never tolerate, but fight against genocide, ethnic cleansing and the like.

I am going to focus on my father and his journey, through my own perspective. I will not be discussing the portion of his life that was spent in Nazi-occupied Poland, or his horrific experiences in a variety of concentration camps, however, I will reflect on how I view his life afterwards — in his own unique journey in becoming who he is today.

The earlier experiences of my life with my father are embedded in my memories. It is only in recent years that I have seen a major shift in my father’s actions and demeanor. I feel blessed to bear witness that he seems to be more at peace now than he ever was in the past.

As a child there was a sense of doom and gloom in my home. The earliest memory I have of seeing my father  with a sadness that I can not even begin to describe — he was almost at a lack of words — was when I came home from school one day, and inquired as to why I only had one set of grandparents. “Where were my other grandparents?” 

I could not have been more then six or seven years of age. My father told me that something terrible had happened, and that I was too young to understand. I am a lot older now and I still don’t understand.

When I learned of the Holocaust I asked my father questions from time to time. Whenever I did so, one of two things happened — he would answer a few questions and then yell “I don’t know, stop asking me,” (the questions were typically around the characteristics and qualities of his family) or my mother would come running from another room and tell me to leave my father alone, “don’t upset him,” she would say.

I can’t begin to share the amount of guilt I carried for upsetting my father. To this day, my father has not shared with my sister or me his experiences during the war. However, in recent years, he has been more willing and open in responding to specific questions that I may pose.

There has been a multitude of studies conducted on the impact of trauma on survivors of the Holocaust.  There has also been a great deal of research dedicated to “transgenerational trauma,” or how the Holocaust  survivor’s experiences impact their offspring throughout their own life span. I find it almost impossible to understand how any human being — including my father — survived the daily torture, dehumanization, inability to protect a loved one and bearing witness to the demise of a friend or family member. Even as a social worker with an expertise in the field of trauma, I still cannot comprehend this. Then again, perhaps I chose not to in an effort to shield myself.

Recently, my father accompanied a group of adolescents to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. As part of this trip, he had to share his own story of life in the death camps, and the events preceding his imprisonment. Afterwards, my father shared with me that this particular speaking session was one of the roughest he’d experienced since he began to share his story with others. We chatted, and through exploration, one of the exhibits in the museum upset him severely. This was the same exhibit that brought me to my knees, sobbing uncontrollably, during my first visit to the Holocaust Museum.

Click here to continue reading “A Father’s Journey from a Daughter’s Perspective.”

Written by traumalines

April 11, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Conference: Safely in Our Hands: Helping Our Helpers Stay Healthy

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Just a reminder: The Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists (ATSS) is holding their annual conference between September 29 and October 3 of this year at the Delta Toronto Airport West in Toronto, Canada.

Our conference — “Safely in Our Hands: Helping Our Helpers Stay Healthy” — is for and about those who serve.

Please be sure and reserve these dates as we know you will want to be part of this time of learning and networking with old and new friends.

Interested in Becoming a Sponsor?

Click here for more information on sponsorship opportunities.

We Want to Hear from You!

We invite each of you to contact any or all of the board members with your ideas and questions. We rely on ATSS members to help us in formulating the direction of ATSS. We are grateful to those visionary members who have shared their ideas with us so far and look forward to hearing from each of you at some point in time. All member input is valuable to us.

ATSS is an organization designed to meet grass-root needs of trauma workers from a broad variety of settings. We gladly embrace new leaders and encourage involvement from all members.

We’ll see you in Toronto!

Written by traumalines

April 8, 2010 at 6:35 pm