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Barbara Rubel – Helping Coaches Handle Burnout, Compassion Fatigue, and Vicarious Trauma

Last updated on March 27, 2023

Barbara Rubel is the founder of Griefwork Center, Inc. in New Jersey. Her expertise is in helping professionals who help others by mitigating the impact of empathic strain, compassion fatigue, burnout, secondary trauma, and vicarious trauma. We hope you find Barbara’s work as inspiring and impactful as we do.

Coaching Focus: I support coaches who experience compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and secondary traumatic stress. My coaching practice stems from my keynote, The FABULOUS Framework: 8 Pillars of Wellness. To build career resilience, we meet virtually to explore traumatic losses their clients face and how those narratives have impacted the coach. 

Location: New Jersey, USA

Connect: You can find Barbara online at her website as well as on LinkedIn.

Editor’s Note: Don’t miss Barbara’s article here at Life Coach Magazine: A Trauma-Informed Coach.

Tell us about your journey as a coach.

Although the warm bright light is coming through the hospital window, it is the coldest and darkest day of my life. I am in the hospital with a high-risk pregnancy. My husband slowly walks into the room and tells me that my father has died by suicide. Dad does not get to meet his grandsons—not one baby, not two babies, but three baby boys. 

My triplets were born as I grieved Dad’s death. His suicide propelled me into my career as an expert thanatologist, a specialist in traumatic loss, and a keynote speaker. 

I focus on how a client’s traumatic loss impacts them and the professional helper. For example, it’s early morning, and you work with a client who shares their trauma from childhood. That afternoon, you work with a client who has suffered a past devastating loss that is currently impacting their life. The next day, a client shares a distressing story that happened to them years ago. 

As they tell you their narrative, you realize how it’s getting in the way of their success. However, you also realize that you are impacted by their stories. They stay with you and sometimes keep you up at night. Your restless sleep may be caused by their narratives of trauma and loss. 

Currently, my virtual one-on-one programs help coaches understand the impact of traumatic loss and grief on their clients and themselves. I help them recognize the importance of being vicarious trauma-informed to manage their coaching career.

What courses, programs, or certifications can you recommend for someone who wants to learn more about compassion fatigue?

What advice or perspective might you give to a new coach trying to get their first clients? Any advice they should ignore?

As a new coach, you may be inclined to work with the first person who contacts you. Although you’ll be grateful for the opportunity, take a breath and focus on your skill set. For instance, they share that they recently experienced a SIDS death. If that loss recently has happened to you, can you coach them without your emotions getting in the way? If their child died of a drug overdose death or AIDS-related death, are you open to listening and helping while coaching? 

I recently spoke with two coaches. One coach tells me that her client was sexually assaulted. The other coach tells me that her client is dealing with domestic violence. Both coaches are emotionally impacted by the trauma being shared and it is affecting their personal life.

As a new coach, you want to mitigate the impact of [your clients’] narratives, so learn what you can about compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma and focus on your own wellness.

What are your thoughts on “choosing a niche” as a coach?

Choose a niche where you will use your skills and your life lessons and focus on what you are most passionate about.

What books have significantly influenced your life? What are your key takeaways from these books?

In 2020, I wrote the third edition of But I Didn’t Say Goodbye: Helping Families After a Suicide. The key takeaway for the reader is to learn how to help a client who has experienced this devastating loss.

In 2015, I wrote a chapter in Keys to a Good Life: Wisdom to Unlock Your Power Within. The chapter I contributed explores the FABULOUS Principle through the lens of what women entrepreneurs know about loss and triumph. It teaches the eight pillars of resilience one should practice as a professional who supports the healing of others’ traumas.

If you received an extra $10,000 to spend on your business, how would you spend it and why?

If I type in my browser “keynote speaker, vicarious trauma,” I usually come up in the top 5 of the Google search. This happens organically for me. However, it is not the norm. So, if I were to receive an extra $10,000, I would spend it on SEO. Enhancing my rank allows for more clients to see me and learn of my keynotes and trainings. Being that I focus on helping them manage their stressful career, vicarious trauma, and compassion fatigue, I would also give them some of that $10,000 for their own SEO. Sharing is caring.

What are some of your favorite affirmations or mantras?

“Be FABULOUS” – My FABULOUS framework for Wellness focuses on: 

  • F for Flexibility
  • A for having a positive attitude
  • B for keeping your Boundaries
  • U for being United and connected with others
  • L for Laughter and finding joy in life
  • O for being Optimistic
  • U for Understanding job satisfaction
  • S for Self-compassion and being kind to yourself

When you feel overwhelmed, stressed, or have lost your focus or motivation, what do you do?

When overwhelmed, I usually take a breath or several breaths in the moment. I then focus on moments of awe and those things in my life that bring me joy.

Do you have any examples of how a “failure” set you up for later success?

Do you define “failure” as a disappointment, a disaster, or a learning experience? The way you frame a failure will set you on the path to managing it and understanding its meaning. 

I made meaning of failure soon after my father’s suicide and the birth of my triplets. 

The three babies are only two weeks old. I sit in the kitchen, painting a picture and waiting for them to wake for their bottle feeding. My hand hits the glass. Water is spilled all over the flower that I painted. A beautiful rose becomes a mess. 

In that moment of failure, I realize that the palette of color becomes a metaphor for my palette of grief. As years passed, my metaphor became a program called Palette of Grief®, which has been used by thousands of professionals across the United States. The Palette of Grief® is an activity that I share at conferences and has enhanced an understanding of a client’s grief process.

Do you have any embarrassing (at the time) stories from your work as a coach? 

I was speaking to a group of 1,300 attendees at a conference when I told them the importance of going home after work and decomposing. I thought I was telling them to decompress, not decompose. They all had a good laugh at my expense.

If you could put a message on a huge billboard—getting a message out to millions—what would it say and why?

“Make meaning of your losses and experience personal growth from those challenges.”

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

During COVID, I had fun with what I called “Coach’s Coffee Klatch” where I Zoomed with many coaches over coffee. We did this several times. Sometimes we laughed. Sometimes we cried. And sometimes we gossiped. But most importantly, we talked about managing compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma. So many of these coaches just thought that they were burned out. That is when I realized the importance, more than ever, of a coach being vicariously trauma-informed.

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