Does relentless suffering in your community or the world leave you feeling depleted?

Welcome to Sustained Compassion - an introduction to the practice and neuroscience of overcoming compassion fatigue and its relatives.

This programme is for you if any of the following applies to you:

  • In your work, you are in any way confronted with the suffering of poverty, injustice, violence or ill health in your community or around the world.

  • You are experiencing compassion fatigue or caregiver burnout (read more about them below), or related difficulties with sustaining your motivation and care.

  • You are curious about ways in which you can stay emotionally involved and motivated, without ‘shutting down’ or becoming cynical/depressed/depleted.

  • You would like to find ways to address conflicting or overwhelming reactions that arise in you in response to suffering.

  • You would like to rekindle or better sustain your passion and energy for your work.

The course directly tackles the conundrum of how to respond to others with compassion whilst intentionally keeping balance and energy. [...] A vital kind of self knowledge for those in the helping professions.”
— Chris Maclullich, UK/Liberia


The next online programme running February - April 2018 will consist of

  • five fortnightly online sessions (of 1.5 hours each), over the space of 8 weeks

  • guided short practices you can do at home,

  • ad-hoc individual support as required

  • sign-posting to additional resources and support as required.

Together we will look at

  • developing self-compassion as a foundation for sustained compassion

  • understanding the ‘helping prison’ — how the roles and identities we assume in our work block compassion

  • cultivating a ‘deep well’ of compassion through dedicated practices

I developed this programme as part of my studies with the Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science. The practices I guide you through are time-tested meditation techniques that provide lots of flexibility to be adapted to your needs and preferences. I support you to develop a way of practicing that works for you.

I aim to create a supportive, inclusive and non-judgmental space for our learning experience together, and give as much of my time as I can to support you as a group and individually with any questions or challenges that may arise in this process.

WhAT PARTICIPANTS HAVE SAID

I’ve taught this programme to people working in humanitarian work, health and mental health, youth work, activism and environment/sustainability. Here is what they said:

If you are struggling with ‘compassion fatigue’ from your work and are looking for a constructive and effective way to better understand and deal with this, I highly recommend this course.
— Tine, Canada
I thoroughly recommend it for everyone working in a caring profession – be it for people, animals or planet.
— Will, UK
Wonderful facilitator, safe and gentle space, helpful and thorough information.
— Karen, USA
I would recommend this to all people who burn out and run on empty.
— Hannah, UK
This stimulating programme gives deep and fascinating insights and practices to help participants discover ways to flourish on a personal level whilst sustaining a compassionate approach to others.
— Chris, UK/Liberia
A unique opportunity to explore the core pillars of compassion and experiment with simple, yet potent practices to deepen our capacity to be mindful, kind and more cognisant of our interconnectedness. Agnes leads with her warmth, and takes care to create an accessible and inclusive space for the group.
— Sophie, USA/Spain
Now I know what (healthy) compassion is and how to get there!
— Nadine, Switzerland

Why am I offering this?

Neither emotional breakdown nor emotional shutdown are viable strategies for responding to suffering.

In professions routinely confronted with suffering, it is common belief that we have a choice between emotional shutdown and emotional breakdown. But neither is a viable strategy. The consequences of emotional breakdown are obvious. But emotional shutdown — or ‘compassion fatigue’ — is just another form of collapse. The price we pay for numbing our empathic emotions is high: with the pain, we shut out all the good stuff, too: joy, elation, gratitude, inspiration. We are left feeling flat and lifeless, bitter and cynical, or simply exhausted.

We can’t actually tire of compassion. But we need to learn it first.

What most people don’t know is that there are different types of emotional response to suffering. The thing we fatigue of is also called ‘affective empathy’ — our visceral, painful mirroring response to other people’s suffering. That’s what feels too much and gets numbed in response to suffering. But compassion, neurologically speaking, is a different emotion altogether, giving us a way to fully engage with suffering, while still feeling the energy and joy we need to live fulfilled lives. In a world where compassion fatigue disengages us from what is happening around us and in the world, this amounts to an act of political resistance. Instead of dragging us down, true compassion gives us access to infinite well of energy to do what’s needed. And as neuroscience now shows - on the back of insights developed over millennia - it can be strengthened like a muscle. And that’s what we’ll be learning to do in this programme.



Who I am

I’m Agnes Otzelberger, a trainer and facilitator working to get our minds, hearts and bodies in shape for the social good we seek. 10+ years of working in the international aid sector, and in a range of public sector and non-governmental organisations, have given me a huge curiosity for untangling the paradox of systems that are set up to ‘do good’ and yet often seem to model that which they are against. Over the past five years, I’ve immersed myself more and more in the ‘inner’ and interpersonal practices that can help us bring our values and ways of being in this work into better alignment. I am passionate about the emerging meeting places between Western and Eastern psychology and science, and I’ve recently completed a certificate in compassion-based psychotherapy with the Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science.