WW71 October 24, 2018: Mindful Self-Compassion: Essential to Training to Care and Special Assistance Team Responders

Wednesday Wisdom Series: Mindful Self-Compassion: Essential to Training of Care and Special Assistance Team Responders
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Here is your bi-monthly Wednesday Wisdom series from the Family Assistance
Foundation, reminding you that a fully-integrated approach for assisting survivors of
traumatic loss involves a balance of head and heart. Wednesday Wisdom is written
and copyrighted by Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D., and distributed by the Family
Assistance Education & Research Foundation Inc., www.fafonline.org. Reprint is
available with written permission from the Foundation. 
  Mindful Self-Compassion: Essential to Training of
    Care and Special Assistance Team Responders

Wednesday Wisdom Heart 

"I was so busy helping the family of the four-year-old boy who survived the
crash that I forgot about my own family. I planned a memorable birthday party
for this little boy, but I forgot my son’s birthday.

Airline employee assigned to work with survivors of a fatal crash

The above is a quote from an employee who worked with families of an accident that
occurred in the mid-eighties. As often happened in those days, the leadership team
at the airline assigned employees who worked for the sales and marketing
department to assist the surviving passengers, crew members, and all families. The
assignments also included assisting families of the deceased. And these
assignments were not optional. No one considered the fact that the untrained
employee responders were susceptible to secondary trauma, meaning that the work
could be detrimental to their well-being, and potentially harmful to their own family
Due to the evolution in the field of family/humanitarian assistance over the past
couple of decades, this scenario is not likely to be repeated today. And just as we
have learned more about how to help other survivors, we are also learning more
about how to perform our duties while taking care of ourselves and our personal and
family connections. 

In an earlier WW #65 (see www.fafonline.org under Resources tab), we introduced
Dr. Germer’s work and more about the topic of self-compassion as it relates to 
attachment fatigue. When Dr. Germer released a new workbook on this subject, we
decided to share information about it and continue the discussion on the importance
of including self-compassion in training of humanitarian assistance teams. 

Recently, psychologists Kristin Neff, Ph.D. and Christopher Germer, Ph.D.,
released a new book entitled The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook. Of the
many books and resources currently on the market intended to assist those who
are involved in work where caring for others often leaves us forgetting to care for
ourselves—this book is essential for our toolkits. Employees who provide
humanitarian assistance to members of their own organization and their families are
especially prone to emotional distress from their work, due to the connection that
often exists between them and those they are assisting. Recognition of this type of
distress has caused a great deal of attention to be focused on how compassionate
responders can do their work while remaining healthy—thus the reference to 
The good news, according to the authors, is that research into self-compassion has
shown its benefits for well-being. Individuals who are more self-compassionate tend
to have greater happiness, life satisfaction, motivation, better relationships and
physical health, and less anxiety and depression. Self-compassionate people also
have the resilience to cope with stressful life events such as divorce, health crises,
academic failure, even combat trauma. 
Empath: a person who can experience the thoughts, emotions, energy and direct
experience of others. David Markowitz, Self-Care for the Self- Aware, (2013)
Employees who volunteer for these roles, for the most part, are highly empathic. The
author quoted above reminds us that when understood and used correctly, the gift of
empathy can be a divine gift for the betterment of humankind—but in order for this
type of work to remain healthy for the responder as well, their training should include
how to practice self-compassion. Interviews with families as well as employee
responders, conducted by Foundation leadership team, has clearly shown that in
addition to learning about self-compassion as part of self-care, team leaders should
be assigned to support the team members from start to finish in this rewarding, but
challenging work.

Wednesday Wisdom Head

A young woman and her male teammate assisted the family of a young woman who
died in an airline crash. The parents of the deceased passenger were appreciative
of all that was done for them during a time when they were barely able to get through
the day, due to their overwhelming shock and grief. They told the team member how
much she reminded them of their daughter. When they shared pictures of their
deceased daughter, even she was surprised at the similarity in their appearance.
The parents told her that they wanted to give her their daughter’s clothing, after the
funeral. They told her that they looked forward to seeing her in their deceased
child’s clothes.

The above example ended better for this team member, then the example cited at
the beginning of the article. This airline accident occurred after training of employee
responders became standard practice. These employees volunteered for the
assignment and chose to assist injured passengers and peers, along with attending
funerals and assisting with other death-related rituals.  And probably most
importantly, the team members had leaders assigned to them who could coach them
throughout the process. Today with a structured system, employee responders have
someone above them in the organizational chart who can coach them on how to
handle sensitive situations, like the above example, in addition to helping them with
their exit strategy when that time comes.

In keeping with the policies and procedures established by the leadership team, the
employee confided in her leader from the beginning that she was uncomfortable with
the references the family was making about the likeness between her and their
deceased daughter. Once the day of the funeral was determined, an exit strategy
was put in place. Per her training, the team member was reminded to have a
discussion with the family about how the remainder of the assignment would unfold.
She explained that she and her teammate would need to leave after the funeral, in
order to resume their normal duties at the airline. She further reviewed with the family
what the company would do to ensure that their needs were met after the funeral.
She provided them with the name and phone number of someone at the company
headquarters who would be assigned to help them after she and her teammate left.

Fortunately, the subject of their daughter’s likeness and clothing was not brought up
again. But had it been, the team member was prepared to explain that while she
appreciated their offer, she would not be able to accept their generosity—just as team
members were not allowed to accept any gift for their services. In finishing her
assignment, the team member met with her leader for a final discussion of her
response activities, as was the policy for all employee responders. She was also
reminded that the employee assistance program was available to help her if she
needed further support.  

Future articles on this subject will include information on the elements of mindful
self-compassion, intended to help leadership team members as well as team
members learn more about how to manage the gift of empathy which is inherent in
the nature of care and special assistance team employee responders.

© 2018 Higher Resources, Inc./Aviem International, Inc.
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