Compassion Fatigue Strategies Course Starts 2/1!

Last summer I teamed up with the University of Florida’s Maddie’s® Shelter Medicine Program to launch Compassion Fatigue Strategies a four module, online, self-paced class for people who work with animals. And guess what?

A new session of the course starts on February 1st, 2016!

 

More than 60 animal care and welfare professionals showed up last session to learn about how they could manage the impact of compassion fatigue in their lives. Through weeks of thoughtful, honest, and courageous discussions, we were able to create a truly special learning experience together.

 compassion fatigue strategies class testimonial

 

Class kicks off again soon and while there’s no magic pill or quick fix for compassion fatigue, there are strategies, tools, resources, and new ways of thinking about the work that will help you transform how compassion fatigue is impacting your life.

You can learn how to take care of yourself, while you care for the world.

Students from last summer’s session have shared that the course helped them to better prioritize their tasks, let go of work at the end of a shift, make more time for themselves and their personal lives, become more aware of their own emotions, mental states, and stress triggers, create healthier boundaries for themselves at work and at home, and much more.

If that sounds good to you, then I hope you’ll give yourself this class as a gift. Think of it as an investment in yourself.

I know you’re beyond busy and this may not be a great time to add something else to your schedule, but let’s be honest:

Nothing will change if you don’t carve out some time and energy to address how compassion fatigue is taking a toll on you and your work.

There will never be a perfect time to take this class. The to-do list will never be done. But if you want to stay in this work for the long haul, doing ethical, effective work and feel better while you do it, then you’ll have to make time to create something new for yourself.

 

Can you give yourself about 2 hours a week (that’s 15-20 minutes a day) to learn and explore practices that can support you for the rest of your career? Can you put yourself on your to-do list this winter?

You can read more about the class and what the students had to say about it here. And if you’re wondering how this course is different than my other online class, Compassion in Balance, check this comparison chart out.

Or tune in for a few minutes to the video below and I’ll tell you why I think you should take the class this winter.

Hint: it has a lot to do with 2017.

 

 

Ready to make a change? Register Here!

 

See you in class,

7 Ways We Can Support Mental Health in the Animal Welfare Community

“Look how involved we all are just under the surface, and let’s try to help each other.” 

– Jennifer Michael Hecht

Doing animal welfare work is intense emotional labor. It takes a toll on every single one of us working to meet the needs of animals and people who are suffering, traumatized, and in need of our ongoing compassionate care.

We can and must take daily actions to care for ourselves as we engage in this challenging work. Only we can take care of ourselves. No one else can do that for us.

But we also need each other. We need the support and understanding that only people who do this unique work can offer one another. We can’t thrive in isolation. Connection is critical to our health.

The quality of that connection matters. For example, research reveals that having coworkers who are supportive and collaborative can increase our compassion satisfaction levels, which helps to lower compassion fatigue.

The flip side of that coin is to acknowledge that we are also capable of, and often do, cause each other as much pain as the work itself does.

Rather than feed into an environment of horizontal violence, we can instead choose to create a culture that supports well-being and where our values of compassion towards animals extends to the human animals around us as well. Even when we disagree with each other, we can choose to reduce the amount of harm we inflict on ourselves and those around us.

Here are just a few ideas for supporting mental health in our community:

1. Stop bullying. The hateful comments attacking individuals and organizations that are being posted on Facebook and beyond aren’t benign or helpful. They are causing extreme suffering in our community.

Our actions can create painful conditions for others which may have a serious impact on their mental health. Let me put it this way: Suicide is often the result of multiple risk factors and while there is no particular set risk factors that accurately predicts imminent danger of suicide, there are a number of stressful situations or events that may increase the likelihood of a suicide attempt or death, such as: a previous suicide attempt, extreme loss, harassment, an active suicide cluster in a community, mental illness, bullying, isolation, and severe stress.

While we can’t control if someone has a mental illness, we can control our own actions and make the choice not to bully or harass others, no matter how much we disagree with them.

Before you post a nasty comment do this: Pause. Take a deep breath. Direct your awareness inward. What are you feeling right now? Pain? Sadness? Anger? Hopelessness? When we lash out it’s often an attempt to pass the pain along and avoid our own difficult emotions.

What pain is the bullying and trolling temporarily numbing out for you?

Take responsibility for yourself. Feel your emotions. Be sad. Be angry. Have compassion for your own suffering. You will do less harm to yourself and others if you process your emotions. Then use your energy to make concrete positive changes for animals in your corner of the world.

2. Organize peer support groups. We need to talk about what we experience at work on a regular basis, so that we can process and let go of what we see and do in a healthy and constructive way. We understand each other’s trauma and sorrow. Friends, family, and others may be traumatized or have a hard time understanding our work. We can’t expect them to be the only source of support for us or be able to listen to our stories each day.

Form a support group that meets weekly or monthly. You can do it online with peers in your field or at work (managers, make sure there is time for this). Bring in a counselor to facilitate one or more sessions to help you get started. Connect with professionals, mentors, managers, and peers who can bear witness and help you process both the details, but even more importantly, your feelings about your work.

Learn four different ways to debrief, including what managers need to know about having a critical incident debriefing plan.

Here’s some advice on creating a peer support group.

Also of note: In Defense of Animals has a free support hotline for animal rights activists.

animal welfare mental health

3. Help create healthy boundaries. Can’t stop thinking about work even when you’re off the clock? We can help ourselves and others by creating a ritual to download and decompress before we leave work.

Here’s one way to do that: Jackie Burke, clinical director of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia recommends meeting with your boss, a supportive work peer who is still on the clock, or a notebook to talk or write about the upsetting things that happened that day and what you will do to try to feel ok about it, before you go home.

Do this every day. Record your feelings related to the work day before you punch out (literally or figuratively, if you work at a home-based rescue). The goal is immediate reflection to avoid repression of the traumatic content you’ve accumulated all day and to avoid getting stuck in rumination later.

Organizations also need to step up their boundary game, so that staff can care for themselves. Read more here.

4. Be #StigmaFree. Help break down the misinformation and stigma around mental illness and seeking mental health help. Mental illnesses, such as depression and PTSD, are not the result of personal weakness.

1 in 5 adults in America lives with a mental health condition and suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. So many of us are suffering. No one should feel alone, shamed, or stigmatized.

Mental health, just like physical health, exists on a continuum. At one time or another, due to many factors, all of us will need a doctor’s help to maintain or treat our physical body. It’s the same with our mental health! Many of us would benefit from having some outside help from a professional to support our emotional well-being. There’s no shame in that, just like there’s no shame in having strep throat and seeing your physician for treatment.

We can break down stigmas by sharing our own experiences and resources. If you have a great therapist that understands your work with animals, let your coworkers and friends know that you are receiving help in this way and share your counselor’s number. Make sure your staff knows about their mental health benefits and if they don’t have any, see what you can do to fix that. Let those around you know that you understand what they’re going through, that they’re not alone, and that help is available.

Learn how to be a light in the darkness.

5. Get proactive about your own mental health. This work is so tough. Although compassion fatigue is a normal consequence of the work we do – it is not a mental illness – many of us would benefit from some extra support at one time or another.

Do some research and get help now, before you are in crisis. It’s smart and courageous to get yourself into therapy or reach out to a pastor or counselor while you are still pretty much OK. You can start by investigating what your insurance does or doesn’t cover and researching therapists in your area that have experience with secondary traumatic stress or the human-animal bond.

Set yourself up with support today, which will not only help you stay well, but if the poop does hit the fan in the future, you’ll already have someone competent in your corner. Be aware that you may not find the right therapist the first go around. It’s a relationship and you may need to meet a few people before you find the right match for yourself.

Get your mental health plan in place now.

Here are some resources for getting help:

Look up therapists on PsychologyToday.com or GoodTherapy.org

A Beginner’s Guide to Therapy

6. Create a martyr-free zone. Suffering is not a competitive sport. Animal welfare doesn’t need any more self-sacrificing heroes. The people I admire most are the ones who recognize their limits and commit to taking care of themselves, so that they can perform ethical, effective work for the long haul.

Instead of bragging about not sleeping or being too busy to care for ourselves, let’s encourage each other and our staff to take bathroom and lunch breaks, vacations, and make regular visits to the doctor or the gym. No guilt trips or unnecessary interruptions when others are off the clock or need to say “no.” We can can celebrate limits, rest, and renewal, knowing that this investment in ourselves is what allows us to show up and do great work for many years to come.

Let’s put an end to praising and promoting poor quality of life. We can be well and do good. In fact, we must do both. We’ll save more lives (including our own) that way…

7. Increase understanding of suicide prevention. Many people are uncomfortable with the topic of suicide. But too many of us are taking our own lives, so we must talk about it openly. If it’s left hidden in secrecy, then we can’t implement effective prevention. Let’s commit to dispelling the myths around suicide, understanding the risk factors, and increasing our competency in helping to prevent suicides.

Get familiar with the warning signs, know how to take action, and always remember that connection – knowing that someone out there sees and cares about us – makes a major difference.

Going back to #1: your actions matter. Suicide prevention is up to all of us.

Resources for prevention training:

QPR Institute

A state by state guide to suicide prevention trainings and resources

A comprehensive list of gaterkeeper programs

Important numbers to know if you or someone you know is having suicidal ideations:

911: call if an attempt has been made, a weapon is present, and/or the person is out of control.

800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 24-7 help that’s anonymous, connecting you to local resources that can help if you or someone you know is in crisis.

State crisis hotlines: Research your local hotline numbers. For example, there is Maine Crisis Hotline answered 24-7 with crisis workers who are mobile and can go to any site that is safe.

These are all steps that we can take to increase positive conditions and support mental health in our community.

We all need to make an effort to shift to a more healthy and positive workplace culture, which includes characteristics such as: providing support for one another, offering kindness and compassion when others are struggling, avoiding blame and forgiving mistakes, and treating one another with respect, gratitude, trust, and integrity.

Let’s make a commitment to one another to help create a culture, within the larger animal welfare community and in our daily work, that promotes health, wellness, and respect for each other. Because we’re all in this together.

What else can we do? Tell me in the comments.

Do Not Lose Heart, We Were Made for These Times by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés

written by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Mis estimados:

Do not lose heart. We were made for these times.

I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world right now. It is true, one has to have strong cojones and ovarios to withstand much of what passes for “good” in our culture today. Abject disregard of what the soul finds most precious and irreplaceable and the corruption of principled ideals have become, in some large societal arenas, “the new normal,” the grotesquerie of the week.

It is hard to say which one of the current egregious matters has rocked people’s worlds and beliefs more. Ours is a time of almost daily jaw-dropping astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.

You are right in your assessments. The luster and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is — we were made for these times.

Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement. I cannot tell you often enough that we are definitely the leaders we have been waiting for, and that we have been raised, since childhood, for this time precisely.

I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able crafts in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind.

I would like to take your hands for a moment and assure you that you are built well for these times.

 

Despite your stints of doubt, your frustrations in righting all that needs change right now, or even feeling you have lost the map entirely, you are not without resource, you are not alone. Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you. In your deepest bones, you have always known this is so.

Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.

We have been in training for a dark time such as this, since the day we assented to come to Earth. For many decades, worldwide, souls just like us have been felled and left for dead in so many ways over and over — brought down by naiveté, by lack of love, by suddenly realizing one deadly thing or another, by not realizing something else soon enough, by being ambushed and assaulted by various cultural and personal shocks in the extreme.

We all have a heritage and history of being gutted, and yet remember this especially: we have also, of necessity, perfected the knack of resurrection.

bird in hand

Over and over again we have been the living proof that that which has been exiled, lost, or foundered — can be restored to life again. This is as true and sturdy a prognosis for the destroyed worlds around us as it was for our own once mortally wounded selves.

Though we are not invulnerable, our risibility supports us to laugh in the face of cynics who say “fat chance,” and “management before mercy,” and other evidences of complete absence of soul sense. This, and our having been “to hell and back” on at least one momentous occasion, makes us seasoned vessels for certain. Even if you do not feel that you are, you are.

Even if your puny little ego wants to contest the enormity of your soul, that smaller self can never for long subordinate the larger Self. In matters of death and rebirth, you have surpassed the benchmarks many times. Believe the evidence of any one of your past testings and trials. Here it is: Are you still standing? The answer is, Yes! (And no adverbs like “barely” are allowed here). If you are still standing, ragged flags or no, you are able. Thus, you have passed the bar. And even raised it. You are seaworthy.

In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. Do not make yourself ill with overwhelm.

 

There is a tendency too to fall into being weakened by perseverating on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.

We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear. Didn’t you say you were a believer? Didn’t you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn’t you ask for grace? Don’t you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the Voice greater? You have all the resources you need to ride any wave, to surface from any trough.

In the language of aviators and sailors, ours is to sail forward now, all balls out. Understand the paradox: If you study the physics of a waterspout, you will see that the outer vortex whirls far more quickly than the inner one. To calm the storm means to quiet the outer layer, to cause it, by whatever countervailing means, to swirl much less, to more evenly match the velocity of the inner, far less volatile core — till whatever has been lifted into such a vicious funnel falls back to Earth, lays down, is peaceable again.

One of the most important steps you can take to help calm the storm is to not allow yourself to be taken in a flurry of overwrought emotion or despair — thereby accidentally contributing to the swale and the swirl.

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.

 

Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts — adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take “everyone on Earth” to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. A soul on deck shines like gold in dark times.

The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of the soul in shadowy times like these — to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both — are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.

There will always be times in the midst of “success right around the corner, but as yet still unseen” when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it; I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.

The reason is this: In my bones I know, as do you, that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours: They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here.

In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But … that is not what great ships are built for.

This comes with much love and prayer that you remember who you came from, and why you came to this beautiful, needful Earth.

 


Do Not Lose Heart, We Were Made for These Times,” (a/k/a “Letter to a Young Activist in Troubled Times”) Copyright ©2001, 2003, 2004, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, All rights reserved. This particular work is released under a Creative Commons License by which author grants permission to copy, distribute and transmit this particular work under the conditions that the use be non-commercial, that the work be used in its entirety and not altered, added to, or subtracted from, and that it carry author’s name and this full copyright notice. For other permissions, please contact: projectscreener@aol.com

 

with love + hope,

Compassion in Balance Workshop in Massachusetts

Join me October 3, 2015 for a full day workshop in Wakefield, MA hosted by the New England Dog Training Club. This seminar, designed for people who work or volunteer with animals, is open to the public and you can earn CEs!

map compassion fatigue

 

Every day you work to meet the needs of pets and people in your community with great skill and compassion. But when was the last time you took the time to assess your own needs or explore the impact that your complex work may be having on your physical and emotional health?

Join us for a full day seminar on compassion fatigue, the natural consequence of stress that results from caring for and helping traumatized or suffering people and animals. This original seminar will cover six strategies and numerous tools we can use to transform and manage our experience of compassion fatigue, so that we can continue to do ethical, effective, and sustainable work.

The full day seminar identifies what compassion fatigue is, its symptoms, and contributing factors. We then examine stress management and self-care practices. Participants will have the opportunity to participate in discussions, experiential activities, take self-assessments, reflect and connect with the positive aspects of their work, practice a stress-reduction technique, and create a self-care plan.

Join us to learn how to be well, while you do good!

Please note: This seminar is not a substitution for professional mental health care. If you’re suffering from clinical depression or are having suicidal thoughts, please seek professional help.

When: 9:30am – 4:30pm on October 3rd, 2015

Where: Knights of Columbus Hall, 570 North Ave, Wakefield, MA

Cost: $80, $65 for shelter workers and groups of 8 or more. $10 lunch (optional)

CEUs: 9 – IAABC
CEUs: 6 CCPDT Vet/Tech CE

 

Register Here!

 

I hope to see you there,

Free Compassion Fatigue Webinar

Join me on Tuesday, September 15th at 7pm EST for a free webinar about compassion fatigue!

Here are the details:

compassion fatigue

 

Compassion Fatigue: What You Need To Know! is a FREE webinar created especially for people who work or volunteer with animals.

Join me live on Tuesday 9/15/15 at 7pm EST for a 40 minute whirlwind tour of compassion fatigue, followed by a 20 minute Q+A session.

You’ll get to see my smiling mug via a video feed and you’ll be able to hear me through your computer’s speakers. During the Q+A portion of the webinar you can communicate with me by typing into the chat box. All you need to join is your computer and an internet connection.

You can register here.

Can’t make the live webinar? Register anyway and watch the recording when you have time!

As you may already know, compassion fatigue is the natural consequence of stress resulting from caring for and helping traumatized or suffering people or animals. Almost all of us who work or volunteer with animals experience compassion fatigue at some point.But hardly anyone talks about it. So even though it’s a normal reaction to the stress of our work, we think we’re the only ones who are struggling.

I’ve created this introductory webinar – a very brief tour of a very big subject – to help people who work with animals get access to the basics of compassion fatigue: what it is, what the symptoms look like, and a quick tour of what we can do about it!

power is in balance quote

 

And for those of you who already know about compassion fatigue and are ready to meet this occupational hazard head-on with the help of a supportive online community, my 8 week online class, Compassion in Balance starts 9/28.

You can learn more about this totally unique class, designed specifically for people who work or volunteer with animals, here.

Disclaimer: This webinar is NOT a substitution for professional mental health care. If you’re suffering from clinical depression, anxiety, or are having suicidal thoughts, please seek professional help.

See you soon!

Learning To Surf: Resiliency and Compassion Fatigue

This week the Diane Rehm Show aired a terrific program called The Science of Resilience and How It Can Be Learned and it got me thinking about why resiliency, being able to bounce back,  matters so much for those of who are caregivers or work in helping professions.

What is Resilience?

According to the American Psychological Association, “Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.”

So how resilient are you? Here’s a quiz to help you get an idea of where you’re at these days.

For people who work in helping profession, resiliency is essential. It’s what allows us to engage with people and animals who are suffering each day and cope with the challenges of doing this complex work that is so often filled with adversity.

 

Resilient People Cope Better

People who are resilient cope with negative experiences differently than those of us who are less resilient. According to Barbara Fredrickson PhD, resilient people are more hopeful, engaged, and connected to others, which helps them to avoid a major depression (or recover from it) after experiencing something negative.

And they also approach uncertainty, something we face a lot of in life and especially at work, differently as well. Less resilient people tend to brace themselves for a negative outcome and they are slow to recognize when things turn out not to be bad. In other words, they were expecting the outcome to be negative and they have a hard time noticing that things turned out ok.

On the other hand, more resilient people tend to wait to see what happens. They don’t automatically assume a negative outcome and therefore are better at discerning the positive and negative in a given situation. And, they don’t project negativity onto a neutral situation.

That’s a mighty handy skill when our work life is filled with situations where we don’t have all the facts and so often, will never know the end of the stories that we glimpse during our day, right?

 

What Are The Characteristics of Resilient People?

So what do resilient people tend to have in common with one another that allows them to relate to the world in this way?

They tend to have strong social support, are more adaptable, have an internal locus of control, and nurture a spiritual life (sometimes this includes religion, but not always). They actively look for and acknowledge the positive (this shouldn’t be confused with blind optimism, pretending negative things don’t exist like a Pollyanna, or a denial of emotion), and often find meaning in helping others.

While some people are born naturally resilient, many of us are not. But thankfully that’s not the end of the story.

You Can Build Resiliency.

While a small portion of our resiliency may lie in our genes, as Dr. Dennis Charney says in the Diane Rehm program, “…your genes are not destiny here…you can become a more resilient person by challenging yourself and working on things that are out of your comfort zone. So that eventually you develop a psychological toolbox that help you overcome tough times.”

This toolbox is an important concept because it would be misleading to think we simply acquire resilience over time. While the passing of time does allow for us to potentially develop a deeper perspective which can lead to increased resiliency, just as might lead to wisdom, the accumulation of more years on the job or on the planet, isn’t a guarantee that we’ll develop either. Resiliency is a more active and complex process than simply clocking in to life each day.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, captures this idea in one brilliant sentence, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

surf

 

Life is filled with challenges that we work to bounce back from – losses of loved ones and jobs, illness and injuries, violence and heartbreak. And if you work in a helping profession, then the waves of adversity never stop coming. Each day we show up to meet the needs of those who are suffering and in need, we are confronted with loss and grief regularly, and we struggle to do our work with resources that often are far too small to meet the needs in front of us.

But rather than trying to run from or fight the waves in a futile attempt to get them to stop hitting us, we can learn to meet those waves more skillfully. And in doing so, we can ride the waves in such a way that we not only survive, but have the opportunity to thrive among life’s many challenges.

How Do We Increase Resilience?

According the the experts on the Diane Rehm show we can work to reduce our stress levels, face our fears (in small steps), practice mindfulness, build our social bonds, consciously look for the positive, avoid ruminating on the negative, and find purpose in giving to others.

In doing this for ourselves it’s not that we’ll prevent difficult things from ever happening, but it will increase our ability to bend and bounce, instead of crashing and breaking when the waves of adversity blow through our personal and professional life.

Despite our history, past experiences, and present difficulties, in each moment we have the opportunity to make a choice about how we will perceive and respond to our circumstances. When we build resiliency skills, we strengthen our ability to relate to the circumstances and challenges in our life in a more optimal way.

Like actual surfing, increasing our resilience isn’t easy and it takes time. But choosing to become more resilient is possible for all of us, no matter how old we are or what we do for living. So why not learn to ride those waves with skill?

 

Want to build your resiliency? Here are some resources you might like:

10 Ways to Build Resilience from the American Psychological Association

The Science of Bouncing Back from Time Magazine

Becoming More Resilient from PBS This Emotional Life

5 Things Resilient People Do from Kripaulu

If you’d like to explore resilience further (along with many other topics) with a community of animal care and welfare workers, you may be interested in my 8 week online classes Compassion Fatigue Strategies and Compassion in Balance. Together, we’ll explore strategies to help you be well, while you do good work, including building resilience. The next session begins soon! 

 

Hang 10!

We All Need Shelter: an Interview with Photographer Jesse Freidin

Photographer Jesse Freidin has been winning awards for years with his gorgeous black and white portraits that capture the bond between pets and their families. Recently, he turned his attention to a different kind of bond between people and pets: the magic between the volunteers at animal shelters and rescues and the animals in their care.

Finding Shelter is a unique storytelling project that celebrates the reciprocal healing that occurs when volunteers support companion animals during their time of need. It captures the joy and deep satisfaction that all of us who work and volunteer with animals are lucky enough to experience: to give is to receive.

I had a chance to talk with Jesse about his project, and the change he hopes it will inspire, on the eve of his big Kickstarter launch. 2017 Update: Finding Shelter is now on sale!!

Jessica: What inspired you to focus on the human side of sheltering for this project?

Jesse: I’m always interested in telling stories that aren’t being told, which is why I became fascinated with the volunteer’s perspective. So much attention gets paid to shelter animals and of course that’s crucial to educating our society about the reality of over-breeding, pet abandonment, the dangers of not spaying or neutering, and ensuring that more animals get adopted.

But no one has ever shone a spotlight on the humans who are the backbone of the shelter system, who are the ones keeping these animals alive. Without volunteers, there would be no animals saved. For me, this is where the real story is. It starts with the people.

maude and sonja
You’ve written that, “The silent love a shelter dog gives to the human who cares for him is truly healing, making an animal shelter a place for humans and animals to heal together.” How did that element of the work reveal itself to you?

The concept of the human/animal bond being a two-way street is really central to all of my work. In our contemporary society we’ve been led further and further away from the roots of our deep connection with dogs, how we co-evolved and came to rely on each other for survival, and how both sides of that relationship benefit equally from the other’s company.

As a photographer who gets to observe that bond every day, I was very excited to use Finding Shelter as a platform to articulate how dogs and humans heal each other simultaneously. It was always a theory of mine that developed simply through working so closely with people and their canine companions, and after doing a little research on the topic realized that there is genuine merit to the concept. My goal is to help unveil that theory to the general public, and help pet owners foster a deeper relationship with their companions.

I love that your project focuses on the immense joy that caring for sheltered pets brings to volunteers, but we also know that the work takes a huge emotional toll on people. Does compassion fatigue, which is a normal response to caring for animals in need, ever come up in your conversations?

It certainly does, and it’s a fascinating piece of the puzzle. This is why Finding Shelter is a really important story. The work that is currently being done around shelter life shies away from the harsh realities of what it takes to work within the shelter system.

When I’m photographing volunteers for this project I am mostly just chatting with them about their experiences, recording their responses, and giving them permission to be completely honest about how volunteering feels. In that process I am hearing such incredible accounts of love, caring, survival, dedication, joy, heartbreak, sadness and of course the reality of compassion simply running dry.

But for every heartbreaking story of a healthy dog having to be put down, or a volunteer describing how compassion fatigue made them walk away from shelter work for years, there is always an equally deep account of how getting through that difficult experience gave that volunteer a sense of true hope. You cannot have one without the other, and Finding Shelter presents that balance in a way that I believe no other work has done yet.

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What do you want the public (the folks who aren’t volunteering or working in animal welfare) to feel or think when they encounter Finding Shelter?

I want this work to be a welcoming access point for the public to easily understand that animal shelters are a place of joy and happiness, of healing and comfort, full of dogs, cats, and other pets that are ready to be adopted and provide unconditional love. Through seeing portraits of volunteers and shelter pets loving each other, I hope viewers are moved to adopt or become volunteers themselves.

The old stigma of shelters being depressing places where pets die does not serve us anymore. More people need to get involved in volunteer work, more animals need to get adopted, and I want this series to get us closer to that. This is a way to instigate change.

What’s one thing you wish everyone knew about pets in shelters and/or the people who care for them?

Shelters are full of people who take care of the animals for free. They don’t get paid to walk the dogs or clean up after them, nor do they get paid when they have to see hundreds of animals get euthanized. They simply care deeply about the welfare of those animals, which in turn makes the animals more prepared to find a forever home. I wish people were more aware of the dance that happens between survival and rescue for both the human volunteers and the abandoned animals, because it’s just so incredible.

If people would like to support your work, how can they do that?

2017 Update: Finding Shelter is now on sale!

Right now I need all the support I can get, as I am about to embark on a 15 day journey across the country photographing hundreds of volunteers for Finding Shelter.

Please visit my Kickstarter page which runs from August 11- Sept 11 2015, get to know the project, and donate what you can to help make this project into a beautifully published book. In return you can choose from some really special backer rewards- like a signed copy of the book, a signed print, etc.

You can also support the project by printing out this sign: fill it out, take a photo of your shelter dog/you and your shelter dog, share it with us on social media and tag ‪#‎weallneedshelter‬

Thank you Jesse! 

Follow Finding Shelter on Instagram, Facebook, and get your copy of  this unique, life-affirming book here!

Compassion Fatigue 101 FAQs

Recently I was interviewed by RadioMD about compassion fatigue and animal welfare workersradio md. The interview, only 10 minutes long, is a very quick introduction to compassion fatigue which might be helpful to you if you’re looking for some basic information.

You can listen to it here.

 

To help round out the interview (seriously, 10 minutes goes by in a flash when you’re talking about a BIG subject like this!), here are some answers to a handful of Frequently Asked Questions people often toss my way:

 

What is compassion fatigue? What are some common signs and symptoms?

Compassion fatigue is the physical and emotional exhaustion that arises from the constant demand to be compassionate and effective in helping those in need and who are suffering. It’s the natural consequence of the stress from doing the emotional labor of helping animals and people who are in need.

Dr. Rachel Remen has said that “The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet.”

And that’s the truth – we can’t do this work and not experience some emotional wear and tear. Compassion fatigue is an occupational hazard. So there’s nothing wrong with you if you experience it. You’re not broken. It’s a normal reaction to the work that we do. Most of us will experience CF at one time or another in our careers. There is no shame in that. Once we understand this, we can take steps to help ourselves.

 

What are the signs and symptoms?

Compassion fatigue looks different for each one of us. So my symptoms might be different than yours. A few common signs of CF are:

  • Physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Isolating ourselves from others
  • Anger and irritability
  • Cynicism
  • Sleep problems – like insomnia and hypersomnia
  • Bottled up emotions
  • Persistent physical ailments
  • Inability to embrace complexity
  • Apathy
  • Sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Using substances to numb out or self-medicate: drugs, alcohol, food, etc.
  • Workaholism – taking on more and more work and responsibility and blurring boundaries (common at the onset of CF)
  • A reduced ability to feel empathy and compassion for others and ourselves. Being disconnected and desensitized – it’s the opposite of the very qualities that brought us to the work in the first place (common in experienced caregivers)

Here’s a PDF with basic info regarding compassion fatigue definitions and symptoms. 

 

Are there any unique challenges that animal care workers face that contribute to their experience of CF?

While animal care workers have a lot in common with other helping professionals – they do have one unique factor that contributes to compassion fatigue which is euthanasia. No other helping professional is tasked with ending the lives of those they care for.

Look, no one gets into the business of helping animals because we want to end their lives, so euthanasia causes a lot of distress for us and on different levels: moral distress, primary trauma, and secondary traumatic stress.

It’s a common myth that only people who perform euthanasia in high numbers can be affected by CF. While euthanasia techs have been shown to have high levels of CF and burnout, you don’t have to be the one performing the euthanasia to experience CF for two reasons:

One, it’s an ever-present aspect of the work that all of us are doing. Euthanasia is a major issue in our workplaces and in the wider animal welfare community. Two, no matter what your job duties entail – from the front desk at a shelter to the ACO in the field – we’re engaged in helping those who are in need. That means CF is an occupational hazard for all of us.

 

 

What can animal care workers and other helping professionals due to manage the impact of compassion fatigue in their lives?

The first step to managing the impact of CF starts with understanding what it is and learning to recognize how it’s affecting you personally. We can’t do anything about it, if we aren’t aware of what it looks and feels like. The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project by Patricia Smith has some great information and the book When Helping Hurts about CF in the veterinary professions is also very helpful. Read a book, hire someone to do a workshop at your organization, etc.

In addition to understanding and acknowledging CF, we need to assess our own levels of stress and self-care. Often, we spend all of our time and energy caring for others, and we leave ourselves with absolutely nothing leftover to take care of ourselves. Learning how to set limits and create healthy boundaries, so that we have enough time and energy for daily self-care and stress management is critically important.

When we’re suffering from CF, the quality of work can become compromised, which means we can cause harm to others. So we’re ethically obligated to take care of ourselves. It’s not optional. Caring for ourselves is not indulgent or selfish. Authentic self-care fills us back up each day, so we have something to give.

Try to do something each day that allows you to be present with yourself, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, singing, dancing – anything that allows you to detox from your day and create a sense of groundedness to help carry you forward. Create some internal space for yourself.

And finally researchers have shown that social support is of huge importance when it comes to managing compassion fatigue. We tend to isolate ourselves more and more when we’re feeling the effects of CF. We need support. Find a friend at work, talk with a therapist who understands compassion fatigue, build a peer support group that meets each month, don’t ignore the phone calls from your family…do whatever you can to stay connected to those who care about you.

 

If someone is feeling depressed or having suicidal thoughts, what should they do?

If you’re feeling hopeless, anxious, depressed, or working through unresolved trauma, please seek out professional mental health help. Self-care strategies alone aren’t enough. Ask a friend or your primary physician for a referral or visit a site like PsychologyToday.com to find a professional in your area.

If you or someone you know are suicidal or in crisis, you need to get help immediately.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK for help. The call is free and totally confidential. A trained crisis worker will listen to your problems and will tell you about mental health services in your area.

If you suspect a friend or coworker is suicidal, encourage them to get help, give them this number or take them to get help, and let them know that you and others really care about them and want them to be well. And keep following up with them, even after the crises looks like it has passed.

 

What’s the good news?

The good news is that we love our work. Animal care workers have some of the highest levels of compassion satisfaction – which is the joy we get from doing our jobs well. When we take care of ourselves and reconnect to the joys of our work, it can help us become more resilient to the challenges of the work.

Making a conscious effort, through simple exercises, to be aware of and acknowledge what we enjoy and find meaningful about our work not only boosts our positive outlook, but it helps us to stay empowered: it’s our choice to keep doing the work we love, despite how difficult it can be.

Another good thing is that the conversation about compassion fatigue is growing and more and more resources are being created every day to address this important issue. Veterinary social workers, support groups, online classes, and webinars are all now available to help animal care workers access the help they need to be healthy while they continue to do good work.

 

Where can people learn more about compassion fatigue?

Check out the resources listed on my website. You can also take a class with me online. My self-study course, Compassion in Balance, is available to you anytime and was created specifically for people who work with animals.

 

“Self-Care is Not a One-Time Activity” an Interview with Enid Traisman

Earlier this year I came across an article about compassion fatigue that introduced me to the fabulous work of Enid Traisman, CT, MSW. A certified grief counselor and Director of the Pet Loss Support Program at DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital in Portland, OR, Enid recently co-founded the DoveLewis wellness program to support the staff in the benefits of self-care and work-life balance.

Research has shown that in order to effectively manage compassion fatigue, changes must happen at both the individual and the organizational level. So I was thrilled to learn that DoveLewis was making staff wellness a priority, incorporating different approaches to supporting staff as they engage in this challenging work. Eager to learn more, I reached out to Enid.


Jessica: Can you tell us more about Wellness Month at Dove? How did this idea become a reality?

Enid: Over the years I have seen amazing veterinary professionals pour their hearts and souls into their jobs, and I have seen countless numbers of these wonderful folks suffer from compassion fatigue and burnout. Some leave the field, others continue to practice but no longer enjoy working.

Veterinary care is high stress for a variety of reasons, including the shorter lifespan of animals, economic restraints inhibiting optimal care, difficult clients, cranky coworkers and long, long hours. Many veterinary professionals are born to be caregivers. Caregivers by nature thrive on helping others, often at the expense of taking care of their own needs that they may deem unimportant or even selfish.

As a certified grief counselor and compassion fatigue specialist I have seen firsthand and studied the importance of teaching self-care and work-life balance to veterinary professionals. For years I have been providing workshops teaching these skills to facilitate veterinary professionals in continuing and enjoying their career helping animals.

The workshops, complete with self-assessments and tools to build a viable self-care routine were well received and helped people understand why they were feeling fatigued. BUT, it is hard to put into action changes necessary for combating and healing from compassion fatigue – and that is where the idea for bringing Wellness Month to our staff came from.

Along with my co-worker, CVT and certified yoga instructor Josey Kinnaman, we designed a month full of activities and opportunities that would be easily accessible for our staff. Our goal was to encourage and make it easy for our staff to experience a variety of self-care practices in hopes of starting new healthy habits.

Some of the opportunities provided at the hospital:

* Fresh healthy snacks and drinks daily to help sustain their physical bodies.

* Yoga sessions twice weekly to support a healthy mind and body.

* Onsite massages to sooth sore, tense muscles.

* Guided imagery with a Buddhist monk to teach relaxation of the mind and body.

* Art activities to unleash creativity, including scented bath salts and neck warmers.

* A contest to encourage exercise, hobbies, and replenishing activities outside of work.

Enid and Dogs
Enid with her dogs


How has the response from staff been so far?

Many of the staff were enthusiastic and appreciative of the many activities we brought to the hospital for them to participate in. We had upwards of 70% participation in some of the activities. We heard many great comments and requests to continue with wellness activities every month.


What advice do you have for management, of animal shelters and vet practices, who would like to support their staff’s emotional health and to encourage workplace wellness?

The support of management is essential for impacting positive changes in the culture of work environment. By providing the expectation and allotting time for employees to take good care of themselves it is more likely to happen. Even small changes like implementing regular breaks for the staff so they can eat a healthy snack, hydrate and take walk around the block for some fresh air will make a huge difference.

I have heard managers say that it is too busy to take breaks…I disagree; staff members will be more effective, make fewer mistakes and be more pleasant with their co-workers and patients if their basic needs are being met.

Managers can support work-life balance by limiting overtime scheduled. With a tough job like veterinary care, it is very important to have time away from the stressors of the job to unwind and replenish between shifts. They must have time to catch up on sleep and have some fun and exercise to be at the top of their game.

In the long run, supporting self-care and work-life balance will come back to the hospital tenfold, happier staff, well cared for patients and clients and less turnover.

Euthanasia plays a big part in our experiences of compassion fatigue. Many of us are grieving the deaths of the animals we’ve cared for, at the shelter or at our vet practices, as well as comforting our clients who are grieving the loss of their pets. What, if anything, can we do to make this part of our jobs less traumatic?

Acknowledging how sad euthanasias are and recognizing that they take a toll emotionally is a good first step. Too many veterinary professionals push the sadness down and shrug their shoulders thinking this is just part of my job. Yes, it is part of the job, a sad part that needs to be consciously attended to.

Additionally, I try it instill in our staff that grieving clients do not need to be fixed; their sadness need not weigh heavily on us because grief is a normal, healthy response to loss. The people who are grieving loved their animals deeply and experienced the joy of the human animal bond. In this field, we love those people for taking good care of their companions. And, people will heal from their grief in time and with support. I explain to the veterinary staff that by providing a compassionate euthanasia and expressing heartfelt condolences for the family they are providing a meaningful service and setting the groundwork for a healthy healing process. Trust that these folks will heal, but first they need the space and support to grieve, not to be “fixed”.

Are there any rituals or practices that might help veterinary hospital staff to cope with the challenges of the work and let go of painful emotions?

Each individual and/or hospital will benefit by creating a ritual to deal with the buildup of sadness. Some hospitals dim the lights for a moment to signify a euthanasia will be taking place to acknowledge the reverence of life and death, a moment of silence instead of background chatter about weekend plans. For some people, taking a moment at the end of each shift to say the names of those who died, writing their names and a special quality about them in a book or reciting a prayer. For others it may be getting a weekly massage to release the sadness and tension they were holding in their bodies. Someone else may take a hike to a beautiful spot and lay stones in memory of each family who has suffered a loss.


What’s a simple self-care act that consistently replenishes and sustains you?

I practice healthy eating, exercise, and sufficient sleep regularly. I enjoy the guilty pleasure of watching TV in the evening with my cats and dogs on the couch with me. My hobby is fused glass work, creating in my studio replenishes me. I hope to hike more this summer and plan a trip to somewhere exotic.

Is there something that gets in the way of your self-care? How do you move through it?

Not enough time is a constant struggle. I remind myself that I must prioritize and make time to eat healthy, exercise and sleep. It is a continuous struggle to put my basic needs first, so that I don’t become cranky and irritable about helping others. When I feel I am going off course, I remind myself to be mindful, to do some easy, quick deep breathing exercises, and schedule in a nice bath or movie night in the immediate future as a gift to myself.


Do you have a mantra or favorite quote that serves as a guidepost in your work?

The heart first pumps blood to itself before it pumps blood to the rest of the body; I must take good care for myself if I want to take good care of others.

 

How would you finish this sentence?

Self-Care is: essential to sustain our ability to help others.

 


Any other words of wisdom?

Self-care is not a one-time activity. It’s not a finite project like building a house. It’s more like the ongoing creation of a garden. It’s never done. It requires ongoing attention. Yet, like the joy of tending and continually creating a garden, there can be great contentment and satisfaction in tending to our own bodies, hearts and souls. Service to the animals is sacred. And so is taking great care of ourselves.


Yes, that’s so well said. Thank you Enid!

 

For more of Enid’s work, visit her DoveLewis blog, or pick one of her five books, which includes My Pet Remembrance Journal designed for bereaved pet owners.

 

p.s. If you’re outside of the Portland, OR area and would like to deepen your understanding of compassion fatigue, you may be interested in my 2015 summer class, Compassion Fatigue Strategies, at the University of Florida’s Maddie’s® Shelter Medicine Program or one of my other online courses.

 

Be well,

New Class Option: Compassion Fatigue Strategies

Over the past few months, I’ve teamed up with the University of Florida’s Maddie’s® Shelter Medicine Program to create Compassion Fatigue Strategies a four module, online, self-paced class for people who work with animals. And it starts June 15th!

So, you may be wondering: What’s the difference between this new course and my other class, Compassion in Balance? Overall, the class materials are very similar, but the courses are set up differently. The original class, Compassion in Balance, is scheduled, with new materials released each week. Students move through each lesson together at the same time.

Compassion Fatigue Strategies is totally self-paced. Think: On Demand. You’ll have access to the whole class on day one and you can do the work at your own speed. But the biggest difference is that this new class offers you the chance to earn continuing education class hours, which Compassion in Balance does not.

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You may prefer to take this new course via the University of Florida if: You want a class that starts this summer, you like doing things at your own pace, and you need continuing education credits.

If those things don’t really matter to you, then you might want to wait for the next round of CiB which will run this September. But, I wanted to make sure you had the option to choose, in case you’re itching for a class right away!

Still not sure? Here’s a handy chart that breaks it down in detail:

Compassion in Balance Compassion Fatigue Strategies
Class Features
Start Date September 2015 June 15, 2015
(you can start the class any time until July 18, 2015)
End Date Mid November 2015 August 15, 2015
Type of Course Scheduled: new lesson made available each week Self-Paced: all lessons made available at once. Materials released upon enrollment, beginning June 15
Registration Start and End Dates Enrollment begins August
Enrollment closes September
Open for enrollment now!
Enrollment closes July 18
Continuing Ed Credits? No Yes
15 continuing education class hours
Quizzes No Yes. To receive CEs, quizzes must be completed by August 15
Discussion Boards Yes Yes, until August 15, 2015
Live calls with Jessica Yes Yes
Access to Course Materials One Year Until October 15, 2015
Class Size Limited Open, No Limit
Platform Ruzuku Canvas (via UF)
Price $149 $200
Discounts available? Yes No

 

No matter which class you choose, you’ll still get to hang out with me! Both classes have discussion boards where we can talk about what you’re learning and both classes have multiple live phone calls, so we can get together in real time.

To learn more about the new class, check out this page. Or, if you want to go right to registration for the UF class, Compassion Fatigue Strategies, hit this link.

And if you have questions, leave a comment of feel free to email me.

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