Blog /April 2012
by Allan Goldstein, Associate Director of the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness.
Dr. Steven Hickman, Director of the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness, and I arrived at the PEERS office early. We were ready to facilitate the weeklong Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training. From the moment we walked in, it became clear that we had left our institutional, academic offices far behind in San Diego. While sitting in the waiting area's very comfortable chairs and listening to sounds of the door's chimes, we gazed at the brightly decorated walls. The atmosphere felt light and joyful. We sat with a sense of wonder and curiosity, and thought about who would walk through the door and be part of the group we would spend a week with.
To our delight, we found the groups' dedication and commitment to the material and mindfulness-meditation practices to be huge. It is not easy to take a whole week and experience training of this kind everyday, especially when you are not familiar with the territory. In fact, it takes a leap of faith as we ask people to suspend judgment for a week and simply experience all that unfold. Some were more skeptical than others and perhaps more challenged to let go of pre-conceived notions. There were times when the atmosphere felt heavy and sad. Yet the group demonstrated a capacity to hold it all while practicing, reporting on their experiences, or mindfully listening to all that bubbled up for themselves and others.
Being trained in Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBI’s) has two sides. MBI is for oneself and the population that it is intended to be brought to. We teach that in order to bring this work into a community, it has to come out of one’s own experience and mindfulness practice. It was refreshing to be with this group of community leaders at PEERS who are on the front lines helping people in Oakland and beyond.
We are thrilled that PEERS continues to hold weekly meditation sittings at their offices on Tuesday mornings at 8:30m. Several PEERS mentors, caregivers, and community activists frequently report how they bring mindfulness into their work. We continue to support them by holding a monthly conference call and helping with the coordination of professional MBSR programs. We look forward to joining the PEERS staff again, next spring, to continue watering the seeds of their mindfulness – based programs.
During this year's CASRA conference I attended "The Healing Power of Stories: the Basics of Storytelling" workshop. I really hoped that workshop leader Bobbi Fischer would reveal a fresh approach that I might be able to share with our PEERS’ speakers’ bureau, Lift Every Voice & Speak!, and further empower our presenters.
At the beginning of this workshop, Bobbi laid out a framework in which a storyteller defines the parameters of the story he or she intends to tell. The idea is to identify and capture all key facts and details in writing first. That way, once the storyteller begins speaking, he or she is freed up to connect with listeners heart to heart. The key details include who the intended audience is and what specific impact the speaker wishes to deliver, and ordinary specifics about their story such as who, what, where and when.
Initially, I listened with both hope and doubt as Bobbi led us through a two- page worksheet. Still dubious as Bobbi shared an emotionally compelling personal story, I was moved to a state of awe and excitement during the second half of the workshop as, one by one, participants from the audience stepped up to use their notes on their worksheets and opened up to speak. The workshop participants shared powerful stories of recovery, hurt and healing, dreams, and visions being fulfilled. Each one spoke with clarity and conviction, each one speaking directly from the heart.
What I really loved about this approach is that it is not just for members of our speakers' bureau. Every one of us is a storyteller for the cause of creating welcoming communities free from stigma and discrimination. Every time we go to a meeting, ride in an elevator or stand in a line--we have the opportunity to share our personal two- minute “elevator story.” Let’s all plan ahead to fully use the power of direct contact!
If you want to tell your story, think about your intention ahead of time. Think about the pertinent facts. If you’d like a copy of Bobbi’s worksheet, please e-mail me at email@example.com. Let’s prepare ourselves to speak truth for change. Once you’ve walked through the steps, then take a deep breath, open your heart and let your voice do the rest. We are a powerful force for wellbeing and inclusion. We are the change!
CASRA features workshops for consumers and mental-health workers. I sat in on the seminar titled "Compassion Fatigue or Vicarious Trauma." I learned that qualities such as empathy, care, regard, and concern (which most therapists and mental health workers possess), are the very same qualities that can cause compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is characterized by the onset of fatigue, difficulty concentrating, shortness of breath, depression, anxiety and a general preoccupation with work that can greatly interfere with a person’s ability to work.
As a licensed psychotherapist, I know that Compassion fatigue is often the result of working with people who have experienced trauma and whose lives are in a state of great upheaval over extended periods of time. The accumulation of work experiences with those in prolonged states of chronic trauma can overwhelm the boundaries of even the most seasoned mental health workers. Therefore, preventative steps must be taken to thwart compassion fatigue.
Some of the ways to help prevent compassion fatigue involve developing a therapeutic community, which can help to lift us and validate our self-care habit. A therapeutic community can also hold us accountable for using good self-care, support our sense of resilience, not allow us to isolate, and immerse us in humor. Another practice that is known to be effective in preventing compassion fatigue is called psychological resilience. Resilience in psychology refers to the idea of an individual's ability to cope with stress and adversity. This coping may result in the individual bouncing back to a previous state of normal functioning, or using the experience of exposure to adversity to produce a strengthening effect and function better than expected. Resiliency is a very important aspect of the overall capacity for one to function well under stress, and helps prevent compassion fatigue.