“Compassion Burn Out”?

A long-term client asked me last night about compassion burn out.  “You’ve been doing this for so long.  Don’t you get tired of taking care of people and hearing everyone’s stories all day long?  Are there people you wish you didn’t have to see?”

I paused, took in the question deeply, and was happily surprised by the answer that arose.  “No” I responded.  “I don’t feel any of that.”  In fact, quite the contrary.  As time goes on, I have more and more compassion for each of us, and the difficulties we all go through.

I often get asked if my work drains me. It does not. While I am sometimes tired after a long day, just like anyone else, doing this work is an incredible privilege.  I am completely absorbed by each session, looking to gain deepest understanding of what is going on and how I can support you.  I am revitalized by my work on a daily basis.  I have clients I’ve been working with for fifteen years or more, and I have learned that it is essential to re-evaluate regularly, not assume that I already understand, or know all I need to know.

Part of what inspires me is continually increasing both the breadth and depth of my knowledge.  I love to learn, and I continue to seek out opportunities to train with top clinicians.  There are techniques and approaches I have learned and integrated into my practice, and others that I invested time in learning but ultimately rejected as not adding value.  For the past two years, I have been training with Dr Dietrich Klinghard, MD, PhD, and it continues to be revelatory.

Of course, I have also learned the importance of taking care of myself. I know that in order to take care of others well and consistently, I need to support myself with top-notch nutrition, 8 hours of sleep a night, and time outside every day with my little dog.   My yoga practice supports me not only physically, but emotionally, mentally and spiritually as well. Anything I don’t want to face in my life seems to show up on my yoga mat, and I am grateful for that.  My meditation practice has become so natural that it is automatically the first place I go when I am stressed or anxious.  And I know that I have to keep my work schedule reasonable, as tempting as it is, sometimes, to fill every hour with clients.

Life is not always easy.  I don’t know anyone who’s actually living the life they planned or expected.  That doesn’t mean life is bad; just that clearly we aren’t always the ones in charge.  I have tremendous respect for our innate resilience and our commitment to navigating our difficulties so that we are better on the other side than we were when we first encountered them.

In fact, that’s my credo in a nutshell:

Take the pieces of the Universe you are given, burnish them with love, and return them in better shape than you received them.

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