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ACT 2021 Featured Capstone:

Compassion Practices for Secondary Traumatic Stress

Ruth Gottfried

PhD, David Yellin Academic College of Education – Israel


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Who did your Capstone Project serve ?
My Capstone Project includes two components: A workbook and a workshop, both focusing on “Compassion-based practices for addressing Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS)”, among helping professionals working with individuals who have experienced trauma.

What was the suffering that your project addressed?
It is widely accepted that helping professionals are at high risk of developing STS - defined as the natural, consequent adverse sensations, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors stemming from knowing about a traumatizing event experienced by another person. STS can further be characterized as a condition that mirrors Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms. This indicates that when STS symptoms are severe, they can qualify for a full PTSD diagnosis.

How did this project address that suffering?
My Capstone Project includes a scientific background and a selection of STS-related experiential compassion-based practices and self-reflections. Fortunately, there is emerging evidence that compassion may be usefully applied to reduce traumatic stress symptoms. For example, a systematic review by Winders et al. (2020) reported evidence suggesting that higher levels of self-compassion may reduce the impact of trauma exposure and attenuate PTSD symptomatology. Based on the scientific literature, my Capstone Project addresses STS by referring to such topics as STS exposure pathways, symptoms, and risk factors; while highlighting individual, group, and organization-wide compassionate recommendations.

Who was your audience and how many people participated? 
About 130 helping professionals participated in the workshop, which continues to be available both online and in-person for a wide range of helping professionals working with individuals who have experienced trauma. Both the workshop and workbook should benefit an even wider audience in the future.

How was the project delivered (the format)? 
I plan to publish the workbook in 2022, and make it available via kindle and paperback. Regarding the workshop, I delivered it via Zoom through the auspices of the University of Kentucky’s STS Practice Laboratory.

What was the reported impact on or feedback from participants? On yourself? 
Prof. Ginny Sprang, University of Kentucky STS Practice Laboratory’s Executive Director, writes in the Foreword of the workbook: “Dr. Gottfried’s workbook is anchored in scientific research - allowing readers to identify the connections between the compassion-based practices and the science of recovery and healing. It is empowering to have this compendium of resources that helping professionals from a wide range of fields can use to enhance their self-compassion; as well as compassionately contribute to the individuals in their care, the colleagues with whom they work, and their organizations as a whole”.

Additional examples of appreciative feedback shared by workshop participants are presented below: “Dr. Gottfried was very knowledgeable and effective. The way she wove together information about STS and how to practice self-compassion and compassion for others was excellent”, “I am so happy I attended Dr. Gottfried’s workshop. It was fantastic. She addressed so much, so well, and in such a relaxed way. The workshop provided great practical information and practices, while also planting seeds for further practice and organizational change”.

How has the ACT Program helped you become an Ambassador of Compassion? 
The Applied Compassion Training (ACT) offers a truly unique learning environment in which everyone belongs, and each Capstone Project is valued and celebrated. I LOVED being part of ACT, and am very thankful to ACT’s leadership, my group mentor, and my Capstone team. Creating and facilitating my Capstone Project, as an Ambassador of Compassion, was made possible by ACT’s unique learning process “learning by doing”. Learning is an active discovery process, and ACT has developed the perfect environment in which learning by doing is enhanced and supported within a collaborative, creative and caring community. With deep appreciation, I express my heartfelt gratitude to Dr. James R. Doty, Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE), and to ACT’s co-founders, directors and teachers: Monica Hanson, Neelama Eyres and Robert Cusick. Thank you for the first-class mentorship you provided and for being such compassionate and inspiring role models!

What advice would you give to someone who's considering participating in the ACT Program? 
ACT is by far the best course I have ever participated in, and I wholeheartedly encourage you to participate in ACT as well!



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