Embodied Practice for Health and Wellbeing: A Healing Retreat for Mental Health Professionals Experiencing Burnout and Compassion Fatigue: Introducing Kari M. Allen-Hammer

College of MBM MS Student Kari Allen-Hammer
College of MBM MS Student Kari Allen-Hammer

Mental health professionals often work in stressful environments, and are exposed regularly to human suffering.  As a result, they risk emotional and physical exhaustion that can lead to burnout syndrome and compassion fatigue.  

For her Master’s project, Kari M. Allen-Hammer described the problems of burnout syndrome and compassion fatigue as experienced by some mental health professionals, examined the research that supports the use of mind-body medicine practices for reducing the emotional stress that can lead to burnout and compassion fatigue, and formulated an original 16-hour urban retreat program designed to guide mental health professionals to embody states of heightened awareness of their mental, physical and spiritual needs.

The familiar concept of burnout describes the long-term effects of job stress, including exhaustion and loss of interest.  Compassion fatigue describes the burnout specifically  encountered in the helping professions, a combination of preoccupation with the suffering of others and extreme exhaustion. The absence of training in mindfully based self-care practices may be a contributing factor to burnout and compassion fatigue for mental health professionals, so Allen-Hammer’s program design seeks to provide mental health professionals with the skills needed to facilitate their own self-care, and to help restore their sense of compassion and emotional well-being. The proposed training program presented in this project supports mental health professionals by giving them the opportunity to participate in an experientially based Urban Retreat for Awakening Embodied Awareness through mindfully based mind-body medicine practices.  Techniques included Hatha Yoga, 5Rhythms, Meditation, and Pranayama.

Allen-Hammer described two major ideas that inspired this project: that active and purposeful engagement by mental health professionals in their own healing and self-care processes directly affects their ability to manage emotional stress that is associated with their jobs, and that the quality of personal relationship a mental health professional has with her or himself directly affects the quality of care one provides to clients. Allen-Hammer’s intention in designing an experiential Urban Retreat for Awakening Embodied Awareness for mental health professionals was to provide an opportunity for active engagement in mindfulness-based practices that offer solutions to the problems associated with burnout syndrome, compassion fatigue and poor self-care development as a result of non-experiential academic training.