Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Healing Compassion Fatigue...

Every year, I drive across Vancouver on the first Saturday morning in December to attend the Open House at the Vine & Fig Tree, a small bookshop owned by my friend, Elaine Perry. As I drive, I happily anticipate the twinkling fairy lights, the spicy aroma of mulled cider, the home baking donated by grateful customers, Elaine's welcoming hug and, of course, her eclectic mix of books, (eastern and western spirituality, current fine fiction and poetry, children's books), and gifts, ( Advent calendars, fair trade African bracelets, beeswax candles, Buddhist singing bowls, journals, and Chor Leone and Electra CD's , among others). The air hums with holiday greetings and wide ranging conversations and there's a sense of happy "community" throughout the shop.

This year, I was fortunate to meet a lovely woman, a fellow adult educator, while pausing between purchases to sip a cup of cider. She is involved in teaching instructors to be better educators and she generously shared her philosophy of teacher development with me - in a nutshell, that learning the theory and technique of teaching is much less important than our individual development as human beings. That it is our healing and wholeness, our individual growth and development, that make us into good and credible educators. I was very grateful for this conversation, and for a similar one (by email) with CF Specialist, Eric Gentry, PhD, for I believe that both have a light to shine on the paths of those of us seeking to build compassion fatigue resiliency.

As with the process of creating better educators, the process of building CF resilience must, to my mind, focus first on the individual health and wholeness of the helper. There is no question that systemic issues and toxicity in the workplace must be addressed wherever found, but, ultimately, it is our individual wellness, our capacity to regulate our traumatic stress, that determines our CF resilience.

CF is, primarily, an individual trauma issue. We are secondarily traumatized in our work because our personal trauma and loss history has taught us to perceive personal threat where none exists. ie Due our previous personal trauma, our autonomic nervous systems mistakenly activate upon hearing stories of threat to others and we become symptomatic.

So, if trauma is the core problem in compassion fatigue, the solutions must center around the healing of that trauma. If we work successfully on our individual trauma recovery, we will ultimately make better systemic decisions and our workplaces will improve.

Some will object to this viewpoint, believing that in stating it, I am "blaming the victim". I do not believe this to be so. As Eric Gentry says, "People in recovery have resolved this paradox better than anyone: Addicts are not responsible for having the disease of addiction but are responsible for their recovery from it." In the same sense, we who experience CF are not responsible for developing CF, but we are responsible for our own recovery.

So, what am I saying here? Just that if we are to solve a problem, we must be able to state that problem clearly. Once we've done that, we have the resources of the universe at our disposal for our healing, growth and development. The grace that is recovery is available to each of us if we can find the courage to seek it out. There is a light in the darkness beckoning each of us to a place of greater wholeness and wellness this holiday season.

No comments: