For all of the holiday joy in many of our lives, if there’s a time of year people feel burned out, it’s probably about now.

We burn out on bad, sometimes tragic, news in our industry and nation. And via the mundane, such as racing from the fourth school holiday concert to a work party. But during the average long-term care worker’s day, many are at the end of their ropes from a year that has brought higher acuity residents and increased pressures on time and funds.

Is it any wonder compassion fatigue results? A new course in San Francisco aims to help.

The Contemplative Caregiver Course runs from January 24 to November 16 next year at the San Francisco Zen Center.

Now, I suspect some of you read “San Francisco,” “Zen” and “course” and think, “bah humbug!”

But hear out the Rev. Jennifer Block, a Buddhist chaplain, who designed the course with SFZC Vice President Susan O’Connell. Block says her administration of end-of-life care in a Buddhist hospice showed her the need for better care training for those working with the dying.

“The course is new but the roots and principles goes way back,” she notes. “This is a modern, unique approach.” 

She says the three components of the course are: 1) mindfulness meditation, 2) contemplation on aging and dying, and 3) compassion cultivation. The genesis of the course came from long-term care, as the curriculum will be a part of the Zen-inspired continuing care retirement community being developed by the center and Northern California Presbyterian Homes and Services. However, family members and professional caregivers are both welcome. 

While many courses focus on the technical aspects of treatment, it’s rare to find training that teaches how to prevent isolation and burnout. But by guiding participants in how to minimize compassion fatigue, performance and satisfaction can improve while mistakes and turnover will decrease, Block says.

The 2013 dates are broken up into terms, although the terms must be taken sequentially. The sessions run from midday Thursday to lunchtime Saturday, giving flexibility for those who are traveling to the sessions. The tuition is $3,000, although there is a 30% reduction for a limited number of participants who cannot afford to pay the entire amount.

It remains to be seen whether this is a start of a new wave of long-term care training, or specific to those invested in progressive collaboration. Due to time, cost and location, it’s probably more realistic to encourage chunks of long-term care industry readers to pick up the books of Thich Nhat Hanh than to fly to San Francisco. But that said, in 2013, no matter how you do it, make it a goal to investigate how you can help keep away the black bear of compassion fatigue, a colleague of the black dog of depression.

To learn more about the course, click here.