Monday, October 27, 2008


Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.
Charles Caleb Colton

While walking in the sunshine and the frost by the lake this morning, I watched the park gardeners pulling out leggy impatiens and begonias to make room for the spring bulbs.

I love "putting the bulbs to bed" each autumn, admiring the brownish-pink blush of their smooth skins as I drop them deep into their loamy cradles then cover them with a blanket of warm earth.  It always amazes me that they have within them an internal alarm clock primed to waken them at exactly the right moment next Spring.  This dependable budding of beauty and fragrance is, for me, a powerful symbol of hope.

Several times this past week, I have spoken with helpers who are worn to the bone with burnout or compassion fatigue - people who no longer see their situations as hopeful, but impossible. What they don't know, perhaps, is that there can be hope even in the midst of impossible situations.

Does that sound a little delusional to you?  After all, we know when things are impossible.  We know that terminal cancer means death. We know that people and governments don't change. We know that there will never be sufficient resources to teach the way we would like to teach or nurse the way we would like to nurse. And thus, we remain stuck in the quagmire of impossibilities.

But what about people like Christopher Reeve and Michael J. Fox who have believed that a cure can be found for catastrophic injuries and debilitating illnesses?  Have they been delusional or are they living in hope in impossible situations?  And what about all the people living with progressive and degenerative illnesses who have learned that one doesn't have to give up hope, rather, that one can change what one hopes for as the illness progresses?

(I remember how my husband and I hoped, soon after his diagnosis, for one last trip to Holland.  Then we hoped for one more healthy Christmas.  Then for the strength to get him into the wheelchair for Thanksgiving dinner. Then for a night without pain.  And, finally, to be together for a peaceful death. The goals changed but the hope remained.).

In writing about hope from a religious perspective in, Finding Hope, Marcia Ford offers the following reflection which, I think, is applicable to all of us:

Nearly everyone has a story about a time in their lives when something that seemed impossible actually came to pass.  Think about one such time in your life.  Why did you think the situation was impossible?  When did you realize that the situation could change?  What made the difference?  Give the same careful thought to an impossible situation in your life today.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Self Care...

Today has been one of those wonderful self care days... 

A few chores done around the house to the classical music of BBC's Radio 3.  A walk-run by the lake during the one hour of golden sunshine this morning (-this is Vancouver, after all).  An afternoon spent drinking London Lady Afternoon Tea and reading Richard Wagamese' beautifully written new memoir, One Native Life. (Truly a triumph of healing and hope.)  

A delicious dinner this evening, if I do say so myself, of vegetarian lasagne made with whole wheat pasta and organic vegetables.  And now I plan to have a hot shower, curl my feet up in a long flannel nightgown and knit away on a sweater for my new great granddaughter, Addison Paige, born Oct 13th.  (A gift of marrying an older man is having great grandchildren while you're still young enough to enjoy them!)   

As an off-the-scale introvert who has spent a busy weekend with family and friends, this is the sort of day that refuels and refreshes me.  I've learned that, as much as I love the people around me, I need regular time alone to lower my level of stimulation and to explore the rich inner world of feelings and ideas.  What kind of day - or hour or few minutes - refreshes you? Do you know? Do you know how to give that gift to yourself without feeling guilty or selfish?  

The truth is that everyone around us benefits when we take time out for ourselves - just as everyone around us suffers when we don't!  I hope that you will find a day this week where there are at least a few hours that you can claim for yourself.  It is truly worth the search.  


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Retreat for Helping Professionals - Winter 2009...

Are you feeling drained, depleted, in need of renewal?  Do you yearn for time in the quiet of nature to recharge your batteries and gain a fresh perspective?  Would you love to take a nap, uninterrupted, or to curl up by the fire with a good book? 

Why not take the opportunity to gather with 26 other helping professionals at the Bethlehem Retreat Center in Nanaimo, BC to do just that?

Caregiver Wellness will be offering a Retreat for Helping Professionals hosted by the Benedictine sisters at the Bethlehem Retreat Center, February 6, 7, & 8, 2009, and you are most welcome to join us.  The registration fee of $300.00 includes accommodation, meals and snacks, handouts and the self care focused retreat program.  Lower Mainland participants can cross from Horseshoe Bay as foot passengers and then take a $20.00 taxi ride from the terminal to the Retreat Center.

The idea for this retreat came from helping professionals approached to advertise the Family Caregivers Retreat this fall.  I received several emails saying, "Of course, I'd be glad to, but I do wish there was something like this for people like me." 

The retreat will last from 7 pm Friday until after lunch Sunday and there will be periods of silent reflection, short talks and group discussions throughout the weekend.  (With plenty of time to rest as well.)  This not religious retreat though spirituality may come up in group discussion as a source of compassion fatigue resilience.

A registration brochure will be printed within the next few weeks and will be available through me at or the Retreat Center at  Any questions about practical issues while at the retreat center should be addressed to the retreat center. Any queries about retreat content can be sent to me.

Please consider giving yourself the gift of these restful, restorative days in the midst of winter. I will look forward to seeing you there.



Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Enneagram ...

One of the most important elements in both preventing and treating compassion fatigue, (the combined impact of personal trauma, burnout  and hearing the trauma stories of others), is self care, and self care flows from self knowledge. The Enneagram is one of the best sources of self knowledge that I have come across in 18 years as a therapist and mental health educator.

I first heard of the Enneagram, a dynamic system of nine distinct personality types, when my husband spoke about it after attending a retreat in Washington State in the 1980's.  At the time I was writing my Masters thesis and had little energy to spare for trying to understand what it meant when he said that he was a "four".  It wasn't until years later, when my grief counsellor suggested that I do some reading to determine my own personality type, that I began to understand his enthusiasm.  I was so impressed with the Enneagram's accuracy, depth and complexity, and its compatibility with current psychological theories, that I enrolled in the Basic and Advanced Enneagram Professional Training Programs offered by Stanford University psychiatry professor, Dr. David Daniels, and psychologist, Helen Palmer, through Enneagram Worldwide.

The Enneagram, (pronounced ANY-a-gram and meaning a nine pointed picture), describes nine different patterns of thinking, feeling and acting.  It explains why we behave the way we do and points to pathways for individual growth.  People of the same type have the same basic motivations and view the world in similar ways.  They also use similar coping strategies.  By working with the Enneagram, we develop a deeper understanding of ourselves and others and learn to break free from our own outdated coping styles. 

Some people object to the idea of being "put in a box" by a personality typing system, but in fact, the Enneagram releases people from the box of their unexamined personalities.

Choosing your type is an evolving process but a good place to start is with a small book by Dr, David Daniels called The Essential Enneagram.  In this book you will find the Essential Enneagram Test, the only scientifically validated instrument for determining your type. 

If you have trouble discovering which of the nine types fits you best, try reading other Enneagram writers including Helen Palmer, Don Riso & Russ Hudson, and Elizabeth Wagele. Sometimes hearing a different author's "voice" can help you to decide.  ( Reading Richard Rohr's description of counterphobic sixes finally helped me to choose between "one" and "six" for myself).

It can be helpful to remember that, because the Enneagram indicates our shadow side as well as our strengths, we may not want to acknowledge our true type.  In fact, people often find that their true type is the one that they least want to be!

Whatever your type, once you have discovered it, it can make a great difference to your relationship with yourself and with others.  It will help you to understand why you "overreact" to certain situations and people, and it will show you how to reduce your reactivity, an  important skill for those involved in the care of others.