Practitioners Care

Barry Hart

Eastern Mennonite University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

I actually help other caregivers take care of themselves so I have to kind of practice what I teach in regard to the things that we can do. Again, awareness of some of the things I just said is critical and this regular reflection on "who am I?"

One of the things about the "who am I" is that I may not be the right person for the work I am being asked to do over here, but in this other direction related to peace building even though both are peace building I may be the person or I may be the person to help facilitate that. I have a regular discipline of prayer, meditation and breathing exercises and stretching exercises. I run and always tell people that I eat a lot of garlic. Garlic is really healthy for you so you have to have that as well.

Also I was doing a workshop recently on "Care of the Caregivers" for people that are working with victims of 9/11 and also other parts of the world and I got into the garlic thing. I told them about my garlic recipe for salad dressing and everybody wanted that and I thought to myself or I even said it then, "Gosh we've been interacting about how we take care of ourselves and my fear is that you are only going to remember this salad dressing recipe." They were keenly interested in that.

Q: Better than nothing, I guess.

A: One of the things that someone said in that class and I think it's very true, was that a lot of people in this field have your formal religious backgrounds or really themselves are really reflective and care deeply and have some spirituality in that sense. To me, that's really sustaining. If we don't go beyond ourselves in that sense then we do tend to take on the burdens of the person we are listening to or all the conflicts and we have no way to release that. Of course, you could say well you don't have to be spiritual to do that if you know how to exercise and have these other things and I agree with that. But there is something about actually not only caring for others but caring for yourself. So I do say no sometimes to different things or I have support systems that I go to, people that I can talk to, to talk to about my trauma.

Again, exercising is a way of releasing the energy because as we deal with trauma, we take on the trauma of the others. We call that secondary traumatization whereas the traumatized person has primary trauma. If you are working with person after person or group after group over a period of time, you can get very cold and kind of distant and removed. Some of that is okay because you are taking care of yourself, but the group or the individual really needs to know that you care and can sense that without you telling them I care about you.

So you can't be too blocked off and so also staying open to others, we don't close up by folding our arms across our chest and cutting off our heart. The Chinese verb to listen is made up of four parts, each symbol represents something and one looks like an ear, so we listen with our ear. We listen with our eyes, eye contact again culturally you have to be aware of what is appropriate or not. Then there is a line that is undivided attention. Then the last symbol is a symbol of the heart. So we have to listen with our eyes, our ears and really deep listening, undivided attention, focused attention and listen out of who we are and are humanity from our heart.