Self-care skills and mindfulness training for humanitarian aid workers

Living and working abroad in the humanitarian aid and development sectors can be stressful, lonely, and traumatic. Employers such as NGOs usually provide training on emergency protocols, but they do not typically provide training on how to manage day-to-day stress, unreasonable workloads, and the subtle trauma that one can absorb from working closely with traumatized beneficiaries. 

I provide coaching to support humanitarian and development workers with:

If you currently need support in these areas, please reach out to me to book a free consultation.

My story:

I have been a researcher and professional M&E consultant for 9+ years, specializing in sampling hard-to-reach populations and obtaining high quality data from people living in complex, war-torn settings.

During my career as a researcher and evaluator, I lived for extended periods in several conflict and post-conflict settings, most notably South Sudan and Sierra Leone. I've been stressed out, burned out, and caught in a shooting war in Juba, South Sudan in 2016. During my first post in South Sudan in 2014, I watched myself become a workaholic, while my closest friend and colleague became an alcoholic. After 9 months of working 80 hour weeks, I was constantly irritable, exhausted, sleeping poorly, stress-eating, and getting sick frequently. I needed help.

I wish I had known then what I know now...

Especially when living and working in high-pressure environments, we need a daily algorithm for self-care:

Many people also need consistent, reliable psychosocial support. I would love to support you, and if my coaching is not a perfect fit for you, I promise I can still help you to find the support that you need.

If you're curious to know more about me and my coaching practice, please check out my about me page. If you're wondering what it's like to work with me, please read a selection of client testimonials below:

The development aid world is a paradox—the altruism of wanting to bring relief and hope to the most vulnerable gets more than often overshadowed by rampant exploitation and horrific abuse endured not just by those deemed as ‘needing help’, but also by the helpers themselves: aid workers, first responders, field staff, human rights advocates, researchers themselves.

Trauma accumulation is an insidious process: direct exposure to the consequences of conflicts and crises, episodic or continuous, gets interlaced with strands of personal and communal strains. Vicarious trauma, then, quietly seeps in and pools in unseen corners, slowly but surely eroding you to the core.

I know it firsthand: caught in its freefall for the better part of the last two decades, with the notion of ’duty of care’ being, at best, an afterthought all across academia, refugee response frontline organizations and humanitarian research sweatshops disguised as ‘social enterprises’ I had been carrying a silent burden of raging disillusionment and pain around for too long.

And then, Jon and I crossed paths; became colleagues. I was at a breaking point, yet, in the restorative zone that Jon had cultivated for years before my arrival in our team, I found solace. A lifework of sifting, distilling, and generously sharing the products of his personal self-inquiry became the balm for wounds inflicted in places where one expects safety and compassion. Conversation after weekly conversation, Jon’s ability to guide and get the best out of others with both profound insight and tenderness became my anchor and my sail. It healed fractures and fissures, and restored my faith in myself, the importance and meaning of research, humanitarian work, and in a way, humanity in itself.

As Jon embarks on this new path of providing self-care and mindfulness guidance for those treading the treacherous path of humanitarian work, those who, like me have plunged into burnout head-first, cracked under high-pressure jobs, nearly lost themselves into abusive and depersonalizing working conditions, I cannot but wholeheartedly recommend him. If you’ve been considering it for yourself or your organization, take the leap. 

-Ioanna W. (Research Director)

A coach that the world's #1 coach-hater could find a way to love and appreciate.

I've thought about writing this testimonial for Jon before we even had our first official session.  It's a bit long-winded but I hope my personal story and background will be useful for anyone skeptical about the cost/benefit calculus of investing in a coaching relationship with Jon.    [...]

Full disclosure, I'd known Jon 20 years prior when we were both teenagers bursting forth upon the world. Our hearts, minds and souls were both being molded by the camaraderie of college fraternity.  In these formative years, we witnessed each other navigate the power of collaborative relationships - sometimes creative & supportive,  and other times with the potential for incredible toxicity. I always admired Jon as an extremely talented, accountable, high-minded individual who helped guide the ship around potential pitfalls and made everyone around him better. A fun tidbit here to really bring the point home...within the rambunctiousness of fraternity life, Jon created a singing choir of complete novices which he musically directed and we ended up winning multiple national choral competitions under his helm - while simultaneously our chapter was being placed on probation due to a myriad of violations.

We hadn't stayed very close in the 2 decades that followed, but we were still connected on social media, and in a beautiful twist of fate, he had just started up his coaching business as I began my reluctant search for a coach. I reached out to him to explain all of my aversions [...] and perhaps get some pointers on how I could possibly find the right coach accounting for all of my neuroses.  As an old friend, of course he was happy to help and we jumped on a call. I went into the call with no intention of actually working with Jon. Didn't even slightly think of it as an exploratory consultation for his services. In fact, I had assumed our collective pasts in the fraternal institution would be a hindrance to an open, honest, and vulnerable coaching relationship.

I don't remember any of the specific discussion of that first call, but I remember how it felt. As we chatted, I recognized that I was speaking about 90% of the time - airing all of my laundry - and Jon was the most attentive and inquisitive listener I had ever experienced.  In the moments when I would finally let him get a word across, it was pointed, meaningful and very well-thought out - a master class of communication.  He never once tried to sell me on his coaching business, but rather explained the playing field of the coaching industry in a way that helped me fully understand its value. As we neared the end of the call, I was struck by a moment of subconscious clarity that I was already talking to my coach.  We finished the call discussing potential logistics and I intended to take the next few days to explore a couple different coaching options and compare. 

It took all of maybe 30 minutes after the call to talk to my wife, who laughed her ass off at how giddy and optimistic I was about working with Jon as a coach, to know I didn't need to look anywhere else.

What was it specifically about Jon? If I could break it down to 3 things:

- Extensive breadth of meaningful education and life experiences. Jon's coaching theory is guided by decades of PhD Data Science work, international public service, extensive professional therapy studies, and deep immersion into the wellness world.  Simply put, he is a trusted oracle of useful information, and could probably develop 5-10 different valid approaches to any specific coaching moment, able to tailor the right approach to the client. I have seen him offer guidance based fully upon modern scientific studies, as well as offering more esoteric/energetic concepts that are equally beneficial.

- He is the best listener.  Knows exactly when to stay quiet and let me keep rambling, knows exactly when to carefully interrupt and get me back on track, knows how to prod deeper, knows exactly when to offer guidance & useful recommendations. 

- His professional energy and dedication towards affecting positive growth is contagious. Just opening up the zoom window and seeing his face immediately shifts me into a state of focus towards self-improvement.

Combine all of that and you have an extremely well-rounded coach. A coach that the world's #1 coach-hater could find a way to love and appreciate.

Before our first official session, I put together a detailed list of all of the "challenging" areas in my life where I noticed a struggle. We used this as a loose outline for all of our sessions, which I found helpful.  Sometimes we would deep-dive into one particular area, other times we would see how 3 or 4 overlapped.  Occasionally something of note had taken place in the previous week that would become the focus of the call.  Initially we started with weekly sessions - which Jon was very flexible with on timing - and eventually we started spreading them out to a more optimized schedule. 

Some calls led to developing specific action items to move forwards (i.e. establishing consistent routines/books to read/prompts for conversations with boss & wife). Other calls just talking it out was enough as Jon was able to lead me towards identifying the core of the issue and I'd sort of "figure it out" on my own in a way that had previously been blocked.  Every call was different and the net effect has been a heavy breakthrough in all areas where I felt stuck.  Career balance has improved - especially through some heavy challenges in my startup. Community-wise I feel much more included. Regarding mental health, I have a lot more tools at my disposal when I begin to notice uncertainty, doubt, and existential dread kick in. Most critically, my wife and I have both fully overcome the reservations we had in our relationship.  Rather than reacting strongly out of fear or shame to tricky situations, we both have full trust in one another that we are both regularly seeking out every opportunity to improve and evolve, especially when things get tough or stagnant for one reason or another. Our love, support, communication, kindness, and intimacy has returned to a healthy and easeful state after a long period of heaviness and uncertainty.  

When you break it down financially - which again was one of my biggest hang-ups on coaching -- this was perhaps the greatest investment I could have made for my overall long-term happiness and well-being, which in-turn benefits my family, friends and community around me, which has always been my core goal.  In addition, from the start, there was something incredibly beautiful knowing that I was supporting Jon in his mission to spread his coaching talents to as many people as possible. Looking back now, it's laughable to note how much opposition I had towards the idea of "general coaching," given how working with Jon improved "generally everything" in my life.

Thanks for reading, and I can promise you that considering Jon as your coach for any possible reason will be a worthwhile investment.

--Trevor G. (Data Scientist)