Building Resilience

There are so many people who go into non-profit work because they are passionate about the mission. Often they find themselves getting drained, exhausted, fatigued. They experience secondary trauma from their work with traumatized people. And overtime it takes a toll. Some burnout; some tough it out (but they are burning out on the inside); and some find ways to be resilient. (And the draining of energy, exhaustion, and fatigue can also come from organizational dysfunction).


I am passionate about helping organizations to build resilience. There is a latent collective energy we can unlock that sustains us, and allows more energy to go towards our mission. Today, I want to share the story of Barbara Tint.


Barbara Tint is a psychologist, professor of conflict resolution, and global trainer, facilitator, and consultant who has done conflict resolution work on small and large scales. In 2009 she was extremely weighed down by the trauma of the people she was working with.


“My latest project had been working with the refugees of the genocides in East Africa and I had moved from one heartbreaking story of loss and displacement to another.”*

She knew that she couldn’t abandon this work, even though it was weighing her down.


“And I also knew that for my sake and for the sake of the people that I worked with, I needed to find a path that would allow me to move forward with more sustainable energy.”*

She ended up discovering the Applied Improv Network. Their annual international conference was in Portland where she lived. She tentatively went for one day, having never experienced improv before and then decided to go for the whole for days.


And four days later...


“I came out a changed woman. All the heaviness I was carrying was lifted by the spontaneous, joyous, freeing collaborative work and spirit of improvisation and its participants.”*

I came across her story last year and I was deeply inspired, because I see the first part of her story as such a common one among those who give their lives into work. People go into this difficult work and stay because they care deeply and believe in the mission of their organization.


AND they also experience loads of secondary trauma, as was the case with Barbara. Too often though, the second part of her story -- the freedom, joy, collaborative experience -- does not occur for those who are carrying secondary trauma


Many social service practitioners are familiar with the concept of secondary trauma (often used interchangeably with compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma). A plethora of studies have concluded that it can have serious emotional and physical consequences. However, resources that move beyond traditional “self-care” strategies (yoga, bubble baths, etc…) are practically few and far between. This dearth of information may be because true secondary trauma mitigation requires a substantial paradigm shift on numerous levels, including funders and average community members. Decreasing secondary trauma requires systemic change, beginning with the individual and eventually reaching funders, partners, community members and politicians. (Source: Secondary Trauma Resource Center)


The potency of applied improv is that it moves us from feeling alone and overwhelmed, to having the visceral experience of connection, and ''being in this work together''. When we can experience that in the context of play (that gets us out of our amygdala), it's a game-changer.


I have a passion to support those who are the caregivers through my work called Yes!Resilience. In the next few weeks I will be leading applied improv workshops in my community for the staff of Friendship House (they provide shelter, clothing, and food for homeless men, women, and children); the staff of our local DVSAS office; and for the team of chaplains at St Joseph's Hospital. I am deeply grateful for these opportunities to facilitate the unlocking of joy, connection, and resilience for all these people doing vital work. And I'm curious how the experience together will ripple into their work. Stay tuned.


What steps will you take to build resilience for yourself and for your staff?


#appliedimprov #secondarytrauma #Bellingham #nonprofits #buildingresilience


*(Barbara Tint, p 200-201. From Hell, No to Yes, And: Applied Improvisation for Training in Conflict Resolution, Mediation, and Law in Applied Improvisation, eds. Dudeck, Theresa Robbins and Caitlin McClure)

©2020 David Westerlund