I'm collaborating with professors and practitioners in the Wilmington community to design a self-care course for social work students at UNCW. When we sent a needs assessment to students, the data highlighted Issues with boundaries, healing childhood trauma, and navigating relationships. We are sending people into the field without the tools to heal their own wounds. They are entering a profession in which they must tend to the wounds of others.
It’s a recipe for compassion fatigue, burnout, and secondary traumatic stress (STS). This constellation of symptoms is manifested by “physical, emotional, and spiritual depletion” ( In the mental health profession, an often touted statistic is the average clinician leaving the field within three years of entering it. I can't tell you how many former practitioners I've talked to that have described becoming physically ill after working with trauma, not to mention the effect the work had on their mental and emotional wellbeing.
I worked as a victim witness specialist for the U.S. Attorney's Office. My job was helping to prepare victims of violent crime to testify against their offenders in federal court. Within 18 months, I had been hospitalized with meningitis and encephalitis. I had to leave to save my life. I hadn't yet learned Reiki and didn't understand the complex interplay of emotions, energy, trauma, and health.
Clinicians are natural empaths. What makes us good at our craft, that we can connect to another's emotions, to another's pain, and understand them in order to help, is also what makes us vulnerable to burnout, compassion fatigue, and secondary trauma. In the process of connecting to our clients, we take on the low vibration energy of their trauma, and it builds up in our bodies, brains, and cells. Over time, we become weighed down by it. Our bodies become sluggish. Our brains become foggy. Our nervous system becomes flooded by cortisol and the fight, flight, or freeze response is activated more and more frequently. Our cells start to stagnate.
It is a complex physiological process that wears and tears us down. If we come from a history of trauma ourselves and have not healed it, we are starting from behind the eight ball, already weighted down with the energy of our own trauma. Put simply, without the tools to heal our own wounds and protect and clear our energy, we will "bleed out" and burn out. And we will be out of the profession.
Research is now showing us that clearing these negative emotions and trauma from the body is the foundation of self care, especially for those in the helping professions. In a crossover design study on the effects of Reiki on burnout in mental health clinicians, participants were randomized (real Reiki vs, sham), and results were reported on the Maslach Burnout Inventory and the Measure Your Medical Outcome Profile, version 2 (MYMOP2). Results were statistically significant for the participants receiving real Reiki versus sham. Reiki significantly reduced burnout among community mental health clinicians (Rosada, et al., 2015).
In a systematic review on the effects of Reiki on mental health care, eleven studies were reviewed, including 7 randomized clinical trials. The articles evaluated people with anxiety, depression, and stress. All authors found a meaningful reduction in stress, depression, and anxiety after Reiki (Morero, et al., 2021).
After my illness, I would spend the next decade studying six different healing systems, mastering four, teaching those four, training in Polyvagal Theory, training in family systems as a family life coach and educator. I would create my own healing system based on all that I had learned and spend another three years healing individuals and groups with this healing system.
Then, I would put it into a package. A toolkit that I could then pass onto others. And finally, I would understand my purpose on this Earth: to help others to understand that emotions are energy. Trauma is energy. Emotions and trauma are stored in the brain, body, blood, and cells. Without a way to heal and clear negative, or low vibration emotions, they will make us sick. To help others understand that the way to healing our human collective, our world, is to first heal ourselves.
Brathovde, A. (2017). Teaching Nurses Reiki Energy Therapy for Self-Care. International Journal for Human Caring, 21(1), 20–25. https://doi-org.liblink.uncw.edu/10.20467/1091-5710-21.1.20
Morero, J. A., Pereira, S. de, Esteves, R. B., & Cardoso, L. (2021). Effects of reiki on mental health care. Holistic Nursing Practice, 35(4), 191–198. https://doi.org/10.1097/hnp.0000000000000456
Rosada, R. M., Rubik, B., Mainguy, B., Plummer, J., & Mehl-Madrona, L. (2015). Reiki reduces burnout among community mental health clinicians. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 21(8), 489–495. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2014.0403