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Welcome to the thoughtful counselor. I am Margaret Lamar. And today I am here with Dr. Karen roller. We are going to do the second part of our series on lifespan development. Talking with Dr. Roller about her work on a fabulous book that we we spoke last time with the group of authors that worked on it. And I'll be talking with all of them in the upcoming in my upcoming episodes. So welcome, Dr. Roller. Thank you so much for having me. Thank you, doctor. Yeah, so I wanted to just start by asking you about how you came into the field and what your journey was to becoming a counselor and a counselor educator.
Yeah, so I did a lot of taking care of other people's kids getting through junior high in high school and college. When I was in college, I really enjoyed tutoring one on one. And what I found was that as the kids could talk about their problems, and they were better able to focus on their academics, and all of that led me to teach for a little while out of college. But I found the classroom management demands really exhausting. And so I knew that that wasn't going to be for me indefinitely. But I really didn't know what I was going to do. I did some traveling try to sort myself out. And I woke up one day and realized that I really just wanted to work basically, in small groups, with families and with individuals. And so that led me to grad school. Because I had studied Spanish throughout my all the way through college. I lived abroad in Spanish speaking countries, when I was going through grad school, when practicum time came, the only thing that made sense was to be working with Spanish speaking families. And that's what I got to do. And that's really defined my career. So my first placement was in a migrant school, surrounded by strawberry fields. And I learned so much in that experience about what it is to be a force migrant. Through the experience of my privilege lenses just I was really deeply humbling the numbers of traumas that my families had been through and none of that had been my direct experience. And that inspired me to want to learn more. And so as I worked towards licensure, I was doing every training I could find and learning a lot through that. But by the time I was licensed, I realized that I just didn't have everything that I needed to be able to really effectively serve my families. And so I went back to school for another round and in that my families have taught me so much about what it is to be from oppressed identities and to be forced to let go of what one has had when it's known. identities, language, land, family, all holdings, anything familiar at all, and have to cope and adjust. And so with that, those blessings of families trusting me with their stories and and being willing to let me connect them with others that might be in a position to help them access what they need, leverage resources, be able to give their kids the fighting chance that they they left everything for. I've met a lot of amazing people and been continually reminded of how little I know. And so that has that love of all of those families is what went into my little piece that I shared in our textbook and I just wanted to give voice to those families in some way.
And so, you have done a lot of clinical work, which we'll talk about more and what led you into what you're doing now, which is also educating counselors and therapists.
So the the clinical work I did started in the schools and then moved into an Office and then moved really back out into the field. And a lot of ways, I've been very fortunate to be able to do 5150 evaluations for 11 years. So it's bouncing between hospitals doing that, while also working in an agency that allowed for us to do feel base work, actually, because we just didn't have the office space to meet our client population needs. But what that meant was, I got to see people kind of free and in the wild, if you will, how they're operating in the community. And so that community mental health lens is something that was brought to me it wasn't something that I intentionally signed up for, necessarily, but it's just the way that the work needed to happen. And that made me really appreciate how important it is to help people actually in the circumstances where they find themselves as opposed in some sort of a container that they can't take with them. And so all of that really highlighted for me, gosh, there's so much more I wish I would have known when I graduated my first round of therapy schools so that I could have served families in the way that they needed to be served so that I wouldn't need to have gone through another round of school. And I love for clinicians to be able to receive what they're coming for that very first round did not need to take on another seven year degree or what have you. And so that inspired me to start teaching while I was in my doctoral program, just doing some adjunct work, and really, really enjoyed that I just loved being able to connect with students who are drawn by their heart to do loving work in the world and try to help people. And so to be in that position of offering, what I wished I would have had was something that really helped me to integrate, actually, what I did get along the way that maybe I didn't have coalesced in a program, it was more experiential, and through the training lens. And so that built on itself slowly, over time, I just really loved being able to share what I was getting from my second round of school that I think was not broadly available, and a lot of general counseling programs. And because of the gifts that I've been given through training, wanting, seeing how students were responding to that, that actually gave me a lot of energy to then take to my client families. So because there was that synergistic effect of seeing how up and coming clinicians were responding to the information, how that fed me how that helped me really protect myself from burnout, and compassion, fatigue, all of that continued to build on itself. And in the end, when I became a mom, I realized that I just wasn't going to have the emotional bandwidth to be taking care of families all day long, and then have my son get the drugs, right, I really needed to shift especially as an older mom. So by shifting my focus to really having students at the center folks who are about to launch, because they are not generally in acute crisis in their own lives, because they're not meeting us as a case manager and point person who is directing all of their care while also being in their homes and in their lives in a really intensive way. That allowed me to rebalance my life force in ways that can prioritize my son the way that my family said taught me he needed to be prioritized. So having students be the bulk of my work really allowed me to then focus on my own career development and my own lifespan development. As I'm moving along through my lifespan, realizing that I'm, I'm moving into an elder category, I need to be really sustaining my life force over that time. And to do that I need to be constantly growing and learning in different ways. This role of supporting up and coming counselors allows me to pass the baton to the next generation that is more full of vigor and, and that sort of passionate drive to go and run the next leg. And I can sustain myself for a lot longer in this position where I serve families now, just one day a week and in a supervisory role much more than in a direct role. And that allows me to be able to stay basically emotionally regulated, with all of the demands that are that are placed on me while also being able to have a bigger impact, right. So as in as a family clinician, I was able to serve the families that I serve, but by supporting hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of other clinicians going out there to be sensitized to some of the demands that that are going to come to them that allows my ripple effect to kind of last longer than my one lifetime would allow it to if I didn't find a way to share.
Gosh, I really love that I I resonate with that a bit. Just that maybe it's the kind of thing where, you know, we you and I have I've been in we you and I have been Counselor Educators for I think about the same amount of time. And so we're sort of in that similar phase of like, okay, you know, this, the grind of kind of going, going, going going is not as appealing anymore. To me, I don't have the energy that I did when I was in my 20s. And so, you know, it is nice to sort of think about how your career also shifts with that sort of change in your life and wanting to have it meet your own goals. And that in our, it's such a beauty of our field is that there's so much flexibility in what you can do and and so and I didn't mention this at the top, but now you and I have the privilege of working together, as well as counselor, educators faculty together, so I learned a lot from you. And you're definitely a favorite amongst the students, for sure. So I was laughed, because I feel like I can tell when students come from they've been in your class sort of recently, and they just are very in touch with, like, how they're feeling about things. And they're, you know, and I'm in the research class. So you know, they're all kind of having to make a hard switch over to the other side of their brains. But, yeah, so I was so excited to talk to you today, because you and I also share another thing in common, which is that we both have a kiddo about the same age, I have an additional one younger, but you know, we've got that kid that our kids are in that sort of juicy stage of development in their elementary years. And so I was very excited to talk to you about specifically your work in development, in part. And so I'm just curious, generally, maybe kind of looking back over your, your journey in the field, about how you became interested in human development as a field of study.
Yeah, I think, in some ways, just being a babysitter as a tween really sparked that for me. My mom says that when she brought home my first brother, that I took him instead my baby, and I think that's my pretty deep in me is that, that desire to attach and nurture and bond, and definitely, you know, that got applied for spending money through through all of my youth, all of the neighborhood families more than happy to have me and like handover their babies, which to me now is the amount.
And it's so different now. The high schoolers, no babies are too busy. I wish I had someone like us. Please let me take care of your babies. But
yeah, no, no, yeah, things have changed. It's true. And I've always loved the babies and little kids. And I don't, it's probably just DNA. But so going through undergraduate programs, and just really learning of what I was interested in, I felt very drawn to everything about sociology and anthropology and family systems and how kids grow in them. I was fascinated as an undergrad at how babies were raised in cultures around the world. And I that's probably where a lot of the seeds got planted. My most inspirational professors were Anthro, social major emphasis professors, and really highlighting the different ways that children get tended and what they're, what they're empowered to do, what their sense of agency is in different cultures. And, and then working with kids in a relatively homogenous culture where I happen to be going through my undergrad really juxtapose the difference there. So when I left college and traveled and saw the way that kids were, through the Americas, spending time, just watching, just observing, kind of as an amateur sociologist, I got really inspired by the way that culture is sustained through parenting. And I didn't know anything about attachment at the time. It wasn't something that was really introduced in my undergrad. It wasn't until my grad program that the notion of attachment got introduced, and I was fascinated by it. But still didn't really appreciate how central that is to the way that our brains develop the way our nervous systems and identities develop. And it really wasn't until my doctoral program that that was laid bare for me. But what I was learning in my doc program really validated what I was experiencing as someone who was serving families, which was the way that trauma stories tend to pass down the way that trauma behaviors tend to pass down the way that mental illness tends to pass down. On the way that problematic coping mechanisms tend to pass down and of course doing my own personal healing work around my own inherited stress pathways, and the way that my family on both lines has behaved in different circumstances. All of that just really landed for me how central our attachment is to our development. And I think that kind of once once the attachment realization landed for me, I couldn't unsee it. And that, as I look backwards, has really informed my curiosity about people just in general, there was a stretch during my undergrad where I worked in a boarding school, and lived in the dorms. And I was basically in my 20s, I was this substitute mom for 26 kids, and seeing the way that they navigated the world and how much access to emotional support that they had from home. The justifications that the families had for why their kids were in boarding school, all of that was raw and, and really showed me the difference between folks who have security and folks who don't. And then, when I was working in county mental health, my first major population that I served was foster youth. And that to really juxtaposed against kids who grew up with enough love versus those who don't, that is also when I got exposed to all of the information about in utero substance exposure, and toxic stress during pregnancy, and how the lifelong effects of that are something that people live with.
And, and so all of that coming together really made me want to help create an army of assessors out there through counselors who will be able to assess accurately what the demands are that have been placed on somebody so that we can have realistic expectations about what they can and can't benefit from in our service to them. But also to try to really increase our general awareness about how crucial healthy pregnancy is in order for us to be a healthy species. And so I don't know that I can say exactly when it started, except for me grabbing my my baby brother and calling him mine. But um, but I think that knowing that we are so dependent on so many variables in order to have a basically healthy life, and how much of that is out of our control from the beginning, just makes me want to help us as a field, as mental health professionals really get the word out and work earlier in the lifespan with our own kids, helping them understand how important their health is for the health of their future families. And that doesn't mean that I don't value our entire lifespan, it just means that that's tends to be a place where my focus goes,
Yeah, well, it's so foundational, right? And so I'm curious, so So you did the chapters on a child and adolescence. So can you talk about your process to getting into that, and what that was like, and, you know, maybe what you learned along the way?
Yeah, I was so honored to be invited to join the project. And I was really, really hoping I'd be allowed to write about the babies and little kids. And so I was so happy when, when that came along. And I just knew that I wanted to be able to give ways to the families that I've been so blessed to serve all these years. And so I created an amalgam of, of the families. And of course, there's, in doing that there's no way but not to overgeneralize a little bit because I didn't want to tell just one single story, I wanted to be able to kind of give a sense of what tends to happen when families are forced to migrate. But what I wanted to be able to infuse into those chapters was this awareness of all of the context and the cultural considerations that do go into even just the process of conception, and how conscious is that conception? How accidental is that conception? How ready was the family system for this new life to come in? What was the emotional tenor of that time? And intentionally, like, I created two different kids, one who had a more, quote unquote, idealized conception and gestational and birth and bonding time in her life and then one who had a less than ideal circumstance, in order that we can really highlight that even within families, there's going to be this incredible variation, right that the from Bronfenbrenner as Chrono sphere time has Chrono system, looking at changes over time. In that a family system is not the same family system per se, it goes through his own changes through time. And families will go through times of ease and times of crisis. And so this family system represents what that's like for force migrant family that had, all of the conditions are arranged for them to be healthy and stable and well and then lose that and what can happen in a family system, what can happen in a baby's nervous system, when they happen to be gestating during a time of toxic stress, maybe exposure to traumatic events from the environment and the grief and loss of having to let go of family and home to be forced to walk and not have food security or housing security, to not know where they're headed, that will change the way that the mom is feeling the birth parent is feeling throughout the gestational process, and it will probably build tension in her body, it will probably build toxic stress in her body. The signals that the baby receives under those circumstances are not used and peace and well being and enough, they tend to create a more uptight temperament, right, a more stressed temperament. And so the birthing process can be more stressful. And the bonding process can be more stressful. And so just really juxtapose the experience of a family that had been at ease, even though they were cleaving from two into three with the first baby. And basically having some expectations about how that would go and then having to really compare that and try to let go of the comparing tendency with their second child, because that just wasn't the experience that they all got to have together. And also clinically, to really highlight for our mental health professionals that we'll be reading about this to really bear in mind that that decisional process creates a different nervous system for baby that parents then have to adjust to. And that might be a at least a portion of what's going on in a family system. If you have a child that's really struggling, what might need to be repaired in that family system in order that that child can really get their needs met, and then start to pick up with what people are expecting from them.
Yeah, wow, it's so there's so much going on at that, at so many different stages in children. And adolescents. I'm curious about just your own experience, being a mom and writing this. What kind of parallel process might have existed for you and seeing stuff going on with your own kid? And, you know, I don't know, I guess I wonder like, did that, you know, did it change the way you thought about your parenting or the way you were maybe conceptualizing then things you were seeing in your child? And I don't know, what was that process like for you as a as a parent?
Yeah. What the writing process allowed me to do was to go back into some of the literature and actually see what's come out in the last nine years since my son was born, that I hadn't really frankly been able to delve into since he was born. Because I was so busy in it right, it was so busy doing it. And because he has now shifted into this slightly older child category, I can see from the rearview mirror, you know how we did. And what I can say is that my families that I've worked with really taught me so much about my own culture that it couldn't see because it was a fish swimming in that water, and also alternate ways of living that I could choose. And so I'm really thankful to my families for doing that, because I come from a more individualistic culture. And that really prides babies being independent, and kids being independent, and people doing their own projects. And my family's really taught me that's not the only way to be. And that juxtaposed up against my doctoral program that was looking at attachment and pre and Perinatal psychology and interpersonal neurobiology really hit home for me that I was going to have to break some cultural rules in order to raise my child the way that I wanted to. And so as I was writing, I was aware of the fact that what I was intentionally doing, because of the gifts I've been given through my direct service and education was to break those rules. I could now see which rules I was breaking and an honor where that came from. One of the pieces that came out of this writing was that now the field of attachment has become so well established and replicated. The research has been replicated or Around the world that it's very clear that one of the ways that culture maintains itself, stably is through what they call the reinforcement schedule of attending to attachment bids, right. So in cultures that are more collectivistic, which was what I was emulating, in my own motherhood, that reinforcement schedules a much quicker turnaround. Whereas in cultures that are more individualistically oriented, the reinforcement schedule is really more spread out. So the training is to not seek connection as much in individualistic cultures. And so this writing these chapters allowed me to just really sink into the research around that the bodies of research around how culture teaches parents to maintain the culture, and the feedback that parents get from their cultures about whether or not they're following the cultural rules and expectations in order to sustain stability within the culture, and how hard that can be, especially in a world where there's so much migration going on, and people are moving away from their cultures of origin so much, there's got to be such a tension. And I still experienced that tension in this culture based on the way that I want to raise my son. And so but I do that from a privileged position, right. So I can only just imagine, for instance, how painful it is, for families that fundamentally stay within their culture group and educate in that way and do what in the West is called homeschooling, to be forced to send their children off to strangers, right and and have the strangers educate their children and then receive them at the end of the day, getting almost no information about how that day went, unless there was a behavioral problem, right. And so all of these kinds of components are things that I wear different hats, I sit in different roles kind of all day long as a mom, as a professor, as a supervisor, as a clinician as a, as a volunteer at the school, right, it just, and having been through so many of these professional roles in different times in my life, knowing all the tensions that the professionals feel that the parents feel the kids feel, it all did really anchor for me that I am glad that I was given the opportunity to choose. And that I basically was in spite of the tensions around it have been left alone to choose. And and I still hope it turns out. Right, I won't really know for a while. But that in the meantime, if I had to err in one way or the other, I'm glad that I had the options and that's something that I really wanted to offer in the writing to is to point
mental health professionals in development but also all the families that they will serve towards the options and so if if one of these if the option that you're basically being told you have to do isn't working for you, there are other ways of being and and that can even show up in just how quickly you respond to your child and what you want to gain out of that in your relationship.
Yeah, well, so much good stuff. I'm I have feel like as I have questions, as a parent, I have questions as an educator and as a counselor. What I will start with though, is I think it would be remiss to not mention our current cultural existence, which is that we've had COVID and COVID related you know, quarantines and, and job loss and school, you know, closures, things like that for the last over two years now. And that has a, it seems like it has a really big impact on the development of our kiddos at all stages. So I'm curious what your thoughts are about that. And what we might see as those kids get older, or what we're seeing now, some of the implications of that.
I have the same questions. Time will tell on this one, we really don't know. I mean, I project a lot of my expectations, right. And I certainly see the effects of the increased isolation, resulting in a lot of anxiety and depression. And I see kids that basically had a relatively protected experience of shut down being able to rebound, you know, and to have resilience which accords with the research. And folks who didn't kids who didn't have that sort of the flexibility and their home life to be really well supported really, really struggling. And because I've been fortunate to work with families that have kids with special needs. I see kids who had special needs like that really get exacerbated just because the things that would sort of give parents respite especially, were stripped and so the chronic stress of needing to fill so many roles in order to meet the needs of a child without the buffering relationships that people lean on in order to salvage their sanity, right with so many demands, I see that the stress of that has just really exacerbated for a lot of families. Especially when families have neurological presentations that they deal with, I see how the being trapped, has really stressed their nervous systems and their brains in a way that's hard to recalibrate. And I would we, I haven't felt like I've moved fully back into normal yet, as much as I've really worked on I don't feel like I can't imagine going to a movie theater yet, you know, there's just a lot of things that I just don't feel like are normal, typical, typical behaviors that. And I think most families feel that way, going to museums and all sorts of crowded spaces, that would be where a lot of families could relatively affordably get a break from the ongoing demands of constantly having to dole out the emotional supplies, those things are still not available. And I see the stress level in kids at schools as well. I see that at our parent involvement preschool, where I'm a clinical coordinator that the coming back together is still so fraught, it's fraught for a lot of parents around safety issues, especially with little kids who just don't understand the safety implications, it's incredibly stressful. I think that for families whose kids are old enough to understand the need for hygiene and safety, and can manage their boundaries around that, it's not as terrible. And in fact, I see a lot of those families doing a lot better now. I wonder what it's going to be like for kids who have a pandemic, as part of their lived experience, kind of like the Great Depression, or any of these other huge shared cultural experiences that sort of mark, that generation, I think all of these kids will always know that pandemic is a possibility, there might be some beneficial boundaries that come out of that for them in terms of respecting health and people's decisions around how to manage their health. And I also wonder if that turns into some sort of, you know, new twisted thing that we do, because as a species, we're still kind of were broken, and a lot of ways and so I wonder about, you know, the, the really suffering folks out there and how they might turn this into some sort of a weapon. So I think that there will be delays that we're all trying to recover from as a generation in some ways. And there might be some blessings and Silver Linings that we just can't quite fully see yet. I think that the the requirement to adjust did allow those who had the necessary variables to do so become more flexible in a lot of ways in terms of how they're willing to learn, or learn and connect. And the simplification of our daily routines, in some ways, I think, could have been beneficial, instead of needing to travel in order to, you know, feel like life is complete, you know, to find pleasure in the little daily outings on our own neighborhoods, is something that was probably beneficial for a lot of families, to kind of get really back to basics in some ways. And for the families that can manage it, I think that the increased together time actually might have really been a blessing. I know that it wasn't for a lot of families. But I think for some to just know what it was more like day in and day out to be with each other, to understand each other's rhythms and to find ways to connect and also give each other space and those rhythms was probably a long term benefit for some families.
Yeah, it's been so interesting, just to see the kiddos managing that, you know, I observed because my youngest is in preschool. And so you know, some of those kiddos who are just coming to preschool this year, you know, they were turning one as the pandemic happened. And that's kind of when you start getting them out and meeting other kiddos and, you know, they maybe they they are with babysitters more often and so they just, but then they weren't and they were just home and attached to their parents for longer. And so that separation anxiety is so much worse. And I was talking to a, a be early child specialists in our area who was also, you know, saying like, you know, your kid has not only dealt with a pandemic, they were a little older when the pandemic hit, but then, you know, in our area in California, as you are well aware, we've also had a lot of fires and community reactions to that, you know, just like trauma of being in those communities that have had, you know, those those fires and, and that all impacts their development, how they behave and how they process things. And so it's been really interesting. So, you know, speaking of trauma, I would I also feel like this is your area of specialty and so want to ask you about that. You know how you So you've done this work with trauma and how you see that intersecting along with you've done all this work around culture. And that's, of course, what your book is really focused on, or the framework of that is, and where do you see the intersections of all of that, especially for that childhood adolescent stage? trauma, and maybe, you know, as counselors how we want to frame or think about that in our work?
Such a big question, oh, my gosh, yeah. So, as a species, we're really the only one that traumatizes itself. And when we look back on our shared history, right, migration is at the center of that, that we started out in small family bands looking out for each other. And as circumstances dictated, we would move on together and take care of each other's elders and babies. And, you know, do a lot of role differentiation in terms of who's responsible for what, and just keep moving wherever was necessary. And it wasn't until agriculture was developed in the Fertile Crescent that we started to set down roots. And that was really recently in our evolutionary history. That setting down of roots led to what the archaeological history was suggested more territorial fighting, and that territorial fighting is really what we're living with. Now as a species is this sense of, of ownership and righteous indignation, when somebody crosses over our ownership and territories that became political boundaries, and physically guarded boundaries is also something that's relatively new in our history. And the fact that we're willing to kill each over kill each other over it is something that's relatively new in our history. And so the I love I love Rasma manakins frame on what has happened to our species in terms of the the trauma that was perpetuated in the Dark Ages in Europe really being the trauma that we're all living with now on the planet, this power over oppressive dynamic of Imperial reign, that whoever has the most power has the most right and the most access. So I see that as being such a huge overlay to the story that we're all born into here on the planet. And I see all of us trying to figure out what to do with that. Culturally, there's so much about cultures that have been in the oppressing position, and those that have been in the oppressed position, still trying to figure out how to set things right. And, of course, there's so much trauma that's that is cultural and shared in these large ways in terms of those with more weapons and power taking away what used to rightfully belong to others. But then all of the ways that trickles down into those that have less power than that, using power over those that have less, and I see that in between generations, I see that between sexes, I see that between genders, I see that within gender, I see that in children having to interface with adults, we don't need no education, you know, just so many ways that there seems to be this survival reaction that when somebody else has something, I need to get it from them. And I think because we have traumatized ourselves as a species for so long, it's just deeply embedded in us and until we each individually are aware of the ways that we're we have been traumatized, it can be hard to stop ourselves from not just perpetuating that as like a trauma reaction, right. So very often, the way that we have been hurt is how we turn around and hurt. And
that is where I see our field as having an opportunity to kind of stick a wrench in the system. It is really our job in our field to see how we, as individuals have been hurt so that we don't perpetuate that but then also see how our clients have been hurt so we can help them to heal and recover from that and then not perpetuate that harm on others. Each of us finds our special niche with that. And our area where we just are particularly gifted for whatever reason like that skill set comes with us whether that is something that's inborn, whether it's something our life has forced us to learn, whether it is something that's actually like a bomb, you know, it gets us away from the work we've had to do in our personal life. And it's just an area where this particular wound isn't my wound. And so I have a lot of energy to be able to facilitate that, like, forced migration is not a wound for me. So I have a lot of bandwidth for it, right? I really don't it doesn't it, like impersonally hurts me that people have to lose their land this way. But it's not something that I am constantly grieving over myself. And so that allows me a little bit more bandwidth than if it was something that I were constantly having to heal from, where I wouldn't want somebody who's constantly having to heal from that themselves, then go and hold space for that for 40 hours a week, right. And I think that, as a counselor, educator, that's one of my messages I really want our students to get is that the work you're doing in your personal life, you have to give yourself a break from that, at work. If you're doing that at work all day long, when you come home, there won't be anything left, right. And so it's actually a really important ethical boundary for us to to notice, when is it time for me to pull back from a certain kind of work because my wounding there's so much that there's almost no way, just the way we are as a species is not going to bleed out, and, and harm others. And so that is another gift of being in this field is that there is so much pain, oh my gosh, there's so much work to be done, that I can take a break from where my wounds are, and pull back from that, and focus on that, and my personal healing, and instead really just meat with love, other forms of suffering other forms of trauma that are not my personal work to do. Yeah, and I was going to ask
because you you describe yourself as a compassion fatigue therapist, and that does this. So I was gonna ask you about this. This is a great segue. Your discussion is just thinking about, you know, when we, when we do think about counselors who are at risk for compassion, fatigue, those who are working with more powerless populations are at higher risk, amongst other risks, but that is one and kiddos are just I mean, as powerless as it gets in their, you know, in that they don't have control over many aspects of their life. And so I just am curious, and you mentioned that in your own story, about, you know, how you needed to step back from that a bit and, and fill your, your work life with some other things. And so I wonder what your messages or your thoughts are for counselors who are in the trenches working with kiddos day in and day out, and how they can really continue to boundary and protect themselves?
Such a good question. So the Traumatology Institute does a certificate track for clinical traumatology as well as compassionate fatigue, therapy. And the research, which is now 40 years old, around compassion fatigue, really highlights that it's our own primary traumatic stress plus burnout, that becomes compassion fatigue. So it's different from burnout by itself. Because burnout, you can get in any field you can any, it's like a repetitive stress injury, if you do the same thing too much, you're gonna wear out those muscles, right, and the only way to recover those muscles is to rest them. And if we go on a two week vacation to some favorite place with favorite people, and we have these amazing experiences, burnout can actually get flushed out of our system sort of organically, if you will, when we come back to the office and see that red light blinking, it doesn't just automatically SAP our energy. If we've gone and done just a really good self care time. But compassion fatigue is different. It's much more like wearing away our gums, if you will, from a lack of good dental hygiene. Like once you lose those gums, they're gone. You can't just get them back. And so with compassion, fatigue, we have the the only thing we really have control over is our primary traumatic stress. We really can't avoid burnout, we just have to keep on doing the things that keep us refreshed and take take care of ourselves so that we don't wear out through repetitive stress the muscles that we use, the neurological pathways that we use to do a certain kind of work, where compassion fatigue, really hold our feet to the fire is our unfinished business that we have from our own upbringings, our own families of origin, our own experience of being oppressed and marginalized.
Our relational wounds, any of the kinds of betrayal traumas that are just a part of living. Those wounds are areas where if we deny and repress and suppress and hold back and avoid that work, it's going to sneak up on us because it's part of the human experience. And the more we avoid it, the more it festers and that's really one of the problems with traumas, it leads to an avoidance tendency in the brain and the nervous system, but that's the self reinforcing cycle. So we really have to basically So bear with the discomfort of tolerating all of the emotional charges that are stored in there and bring them to resolution, which is possible, right? That's, that's really what all of our clinical work is about. And in doing that, if we do that, well, we actually do develop resilience around that. Now, it doesn't mean that we should therefore automatically start working on that all day, it worked, too. But by addressing our primary traumatic stress, we can cleanse from our system, the toxic stress that's stored in our musculature, in our respiratory system in our digestive system, and our neurological pathways that are vulnerable to matching up through our mirror neurons with our clients stories. If we're matching up with our clients around the same wound, through those mirror neurons, we're going to be borrowing their suffering, and it's going to really activate our own. And we will, not only will we not be able to help ourselves, because we won't be able to help ourselves, we won't be able to help them. And that's what we see with clinicians that have been out there in the trenches for 30 and 40 years, not believing in the work enough to do it for themselves, you know, really capitulating to that avoidant tendency, they become immune to being able to experience the pain of others unless it's really a life threatening crisis. And that adrenaline kind of knocks them out of their trance. And so we talk in the book a little bit to students about how common this is to see out in the workplace with someone who's been in the field a long time, that just doesn't know how to take care of themselves. And what's happened is they've had not only their own primary traumatic stress that's just stayed in them. But then they've sort of borrowed the miseries of everyone that they've served. And it makes it really hard for them to feel empathy anymore, it just their stress pathways are so flooded that they, they really can't tolerate it anymore. So you'll see not just really like logistical errors and difficulty with paperwork and learning new computer systems and things like that, but a fundamental disregard for other people's needs and feelings. And that lack of sensitivity tends to be pretty global over time. And so I would love for mental health professionals to avoid that at all costs. You know, it's not like being a professional football player. Even with the right helmet, you're going to sustain concussions, that is just that is the reality of the job. And as a professional football player, your agent's job is to get to the best dementia care possible that they can, that's how you know that you're a valuable player, as you get the best Dementia Care Package. Within our field, we have to be very aware that compassion, fatigue is the major threat, it is the one that is the most likely to take us down. And I don't even mean that will necessarily get fired over it. But our quality of life can truly be robbed because of it. If your paycheck depends on you showing up for people, and you're not able to really take care of yourself, and that transition between work to home, then home life is probably going to fall apart. And so to avoid that fate, from the very beginning, we have to know where our primary traumatic stress is, and tend to those wounds and really actively work there and protect ourselves at work by not signing up for something that's not healthy for us to sign up for. We need to be intentional about moving around on the lifespan. So if if our wounds are from childhood, probably not best for us to start focusing on childhood probably actually best to work with people that survived that phase and have moved on and are really coping with their lives and just focus on a different area of development. Whereas if we have tremendous fears about certain future phases, right, don't go there yet work on other areas that builds your sense of mastery, and, and strength and do some personal work around what those fears are, in order that once you start working with that phase, you're not flooded with the adrenaline and the cortisol of being feeling like you're overwhelmed with that particular phase. So that's a lot of what we work on in the trauma course is just being aware of what is activating. Where do I tend to check out because it's too much for me to pay attention to what floods me and noticing that that's where we want to go and do some personal work. And here's, you know, here's the plan to do that.
Yeah, that's so good. I think that's something that is so important, and we don't I don't know how much we are really talking about that throughout the program. And you know, we have so many students that come to mental health because they have a specific thing they want to speak to with clients that have a similar experience. And so that I think is a really great message for them to hear that it's not that you can't do it, but maybe you should focus on some other areas and and move around through your lifespan. So I want to end with Talking a little bit about your sort of some final thoughts on development? And I have a specific question, but feel free to share anything that you want to leave us with. But one of the things that I think about childhood development, and you sort of made a joke about this earlier of like, oh, we'll just have to see how my son turns out, right. I, I've, I've always had that feeling a bit about development, especially in childhood. I'm, I primarily work with adults. And so there is that kind of a sense of like, well, hope, hope you turn out good, we'll find out in 20 years, I have no idea of what I'm doing as a parent or a counselor, or anything right now is the right thing. Or if you know, in 15 years, we'll find out that we're all doing it wrong. And so I just am curious about your thoughts. I don't know, as a parent, as a counselor, you know, are, you know, are there things that you've talked about things that we can be doing? But I'm just curious, like, do we just need to put our kids in therapy now, when they're young, and just, instead of a college fund, therapy fund, they go into adulthood.
One of the things that I love the most about being in our field is that we can take these golden nuggets that we get along the way and use them at home, try them out, see how they go, right, adjust accordingly, and be basically therapeutic agents in the lives of our children and the lives of our loved ones, right, as much as we can be in that role. I, my son has been in counseling, I won't go into the reasons why right, but I definitely believe in it. And I, part of my agenda is to de stigmatize getting help. That's just a really big part of my jam, I really think that this whole notion that we're not supposed to need help is deeply problematic. It's obviously not working. And so I really wanted my son, not just to, you know, know that what Mommy does, but to see us together doing that work, really having some help around emotional process and not thinking that somehow that's a failure, or somehow we're in trouble because we need to do this. But in fact, this is, what this is a healthy coping mechanism is that when you go through hard times, you reach out for help. And we have a lot of help within our family system and our family, our support system socially. But there are some things that it's not other people's job to do. And I want my son to embrace knowing that asking for help from the right people, and right timing helps me stay on my developmental trajectory. Right. I of course, you know, just like any other mom, just like pride and joy, he's my very favorite person on the planet, it's my favorite thing to do. As the Mom, I'm so glad I didn't miss that train. And every minute I spend with him is like my favorite minute of the day, right? Even when it's hard, it's just like, it's so rich and special. And to have time with a counselor with him by himself with us in parent child, Diane, has really enriched our relationship as well. One thing I can say is that what part of our process was to start carrying out around the inside out characters in my purse, and he has me narrate his inner world through the inside out characters or through roadog, or whatever, he's always telling me to, like play play XYZ. So by trying to guess and reach into his experience with these tools, he's he gets mirrored, right, and he sees that I understand what his internal experiences and that he can correct me anywhere that I'm wrong. And what matters to me is to understand what's going on for him and how he's navigating his life. And I do feel like I've been very blessed to come up through this profession, and be given tools that I probably needed my parents to have when I was a kid, and they didn't quite have them. And you know, they were definitely good enough. But there was like a little bit more that I probably needed emotionally than what was necessarily part of their generation, to be able to offer and so to have learned that and to be able to give that to my son is something I'm so grateful for. And I think it's a great blessing for us in our in our field to be given those tools. And I do think because of that, and he's way more articulate has way better interoceptive skills than I ever had at that age. And I hope that you know, as he matures, that will turn into something that allows him more ease at navigating stress than I generally have had in my life and more of a sense of just like righteous the right to to have his emotional needs met in relationship as opposed to trying to be a good a good kid quote unquote, right but just to show up as you are grumpy, whatever, and know that you're going to be received doesn't mean you get to be disrespectful across people's boundaries, but that you are loved and accepted exactly as you are, you don't need to put on a face in order to be received. So that's one of the things I want to give my clients as well is just that come as you are. And we'll all be in this together, and we'll figure it out as best we can. And I think that that's something that as a species we're trying to get from each other. And I think if we could stop just taking from each other, and instead really allow that liberatory process to unfold, you would see a lot of generosity come out of the species, it's certainly there. So that's one of my little wishes. I hope that that comes through in the book. I hope that for our children, we're arranging the conditions for them to be received that way and for mental health professionals to feel supported in getting the help that you need in order to help the clients that are leaning on you so hard. So that's part of my little prayer in the book.
Well, thanks so much for being here today. Karen. It was such a privilege to have you.
It's such a joy to be here with you today. Dr. Lamar, thank you so much.
The thoughtful counselor is Deza Daniel, Raisa Miller, Aaron Smith, Jessica Taylor, ACU. Diane Ananias. Really tell and me, Megan Smith, Shelly, find us online at the thoughtful counselor.com. Our funding is provided by Palo Alto University's Division of Continuing and Professional Studies. Learn more about them at Palo Alto u.edu forward slash concept. The views and opinions expressed on the thoughtful counselor are those of the individual authors and contributors and don't necessarily represent the views of other authors and contributors, nor of our sponsor, Palo Alto University. So if you have an idea for an episode, general feedback about the podcast, or just want to reach out to us, please drop us a line at the thoughtful firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks for tuning in, and we hope to hear from you soon.