Originally featured in Women of Distinction Magazine: September 8, 2016
Q: A good deal of your coaching practice is centered on working with family caregivers. What are some of the challenges facing family caregivers today?
A: Their biggest challenge is to have a life of their own while caring full time for their loved one and not self-destruct in the process. I think it is so important to remember that in most cases, family caregivers never saw this responsibility coming. They didn’t go to school to learn how to be caregivers. They did not make a conscious decision to make a career in caregiving. They responded to a life-changing event, which usually involved a spouse, parent or child. They made the significant changes necessary to be fully present and care for that person. That is not only love and loyalty in action; it is the highest form of generosity. By in large, family caregivers go it alone. What community resources were available are now all but gone since the economic downturn of 2007. So my work with these clients is centered on finding ways to meet their self-care needs and in identifying ways to seek assistance. I am a huge proponent of the care model put forth by The Share the Care Organization. This not-for-profit organization conducts training programs to teach professional and family caregivers how to set up care circles. We usually have a group of friends and neighbors who would like to help but are not capable of rendering physical care. This care model focuses on what people can do. Perhaps you can help with marketing, lawn care, driving to doctor appointments, etc. Creating care circles allow others to help you and your loved one so that the responsibilities of your life do not become overwhelming.
Q: What is your approach to coaching?
A: My approach to coaching is to view my client as whole, competent and capable. I understand how challenging it can be to remain clear and authentic about ones goals and one self as you try to navigate your life. Responsibilities, setbacks and the demands of an adult life can overshadow a person’s understanding of the present and cloud his or her vision for the future. Our very human nature creates blind spots to options and solutions. My goal is to empower my client to access their own innate knowing and personal wisdom. I can support them as they explore where they are now, guide them in clarifying where they want to be, assist them in setting up a timeline, and support them efforts to attain their goals in a nonjudgmental manner.
Q: What is compassion fatigue?
A: It is a condition characterized by a gradual lessening of your ability to render empathic care over time. Those at risk for the development of compassion fatigue include: nurses, social workers, first responders, special education teachers, and the family caregivers of those with chronic illnesses. Symptoms include but are not limited to, a decrease in experiences of pleasure practicing a profession you once loved, a sense of relentless stress, anxiety over the thought of going to work, and a pervasive negative attitude that creeps into all areas of your life. Long term, this can have devastating effects on your work performance and relationships and life.
Q: How can you start a person along the process of recovery from compassion fatigue?
A: Caregivers have a difficult time with the idea of receiving care therefore, acknowledging that you may be experiencing compassion fatigue and seeking help is a healthy first step. Everyone’s journey to the development of the syndrome is unique so there is no such thing as one approach fits all. However, the biggest hurdle to get over is to embrace the fact that you must take just as good care of yourself as you do others. It is vital to approach caregiving from a place of fullness and not try to render care when you are fueling yourself from the fumes of your compassionate nature. The airline industry really gives the best advice. Put your own oxygen on first, and then help the other person. A big part of recovery is to incorporate an adequate rest and self-care regimen into your life. This adaptation should be seen as a treatment for compassion fatigue and as a vaccination against developing the syndrome again.
Q: Why do you recommend a regular mindful practice for caregivers?
A: People who are drawn to human services are perpetual doers. They start doing from the minute they wake up and don’t stop until they fall asleep. They only way to add a sense of balance to that approach to life is to incorporate regularly scheduled times when we are just still and breathing. Doers are always in their head thinking about what they need to do and whom they need to do it for. So taking time to just sit and breathe, so that you are more aware of being in your body rather than stuck in the endless loop of thinking, can offer a much needed break from perpetual doing.
Q: What inspired you to write your book; Rediscover the Joy of Being a Nurse?
A: As I was crisscrossing the country speaking and coaching at various nursing events, I was deeply saddened by the degree of personal pain these nurses were struggling with every day. I felt the need to try to offer some guidance to those who felt so disconnected from something that meant so much to them. The insight the book offers is not centered on anything that we learned in nursing school. Rather, it is focused on the development of three vital life skills: the ability to adapt, the ability to make and sustain relationships and the ability to be resilient. I believe that cultivating these three life skills can help nurses refocus their attention on themselves and what they need to have a content professional and personal life for the long term.
Q: What has been the most successful marketing strategy for you?
A: Developing my relationship within the social networks on LinkedIn. I have found LinkedIn to be the most professional and powerful networking medium. Everyone using this platform is serious and looking to connect with other serious individuals. Engaging on LinkedIn is a commitment of time and effort but the return on my investment has been worth it. Many of my most important opportunities have been offered to me through LinkedIn.