I am Sara Owens Woodard. I worked as a psychologist for 20 years with children and families who suffered chronic stress and trauma. My focus was on the clinical application of attachment theory — basically, helping children and their families begin to establish a sense of safety and trust in themselves and each other. Also helping them work with strong emotions and behavior challenges from a place of compassion. For the last 15 years, I have been teaching and training parents, professionals, and organizational teams on how to develop the capacities of a healthy mind. Developing a healthy mind and healthy relationships starts with compassion – for ourselves and for others. Compassion Balance, I like to call it. As a young psychologist, I became burned out and overwhelmed through my exposure to child after child with chronic trauma histories. That was over 30 years ago and the beginning of my desire to answer the question of how to do work that is meaningful to me, while also being happy and healthy. This PACT community is the answer to that question I posed to myself over 30 years ago.
Learning to work with my mind transformed my life. I had to do it to recover from my burnout and depression and find a way to be healthy and happy. When I fell apart as a new psychologist, I knew I had to learn to work with the strong emotions that came with being exposed to children with histories that would break my heart and shatter me.
Another young psychologist referred me to a book about meditation, and from that day forward, I have practiced settling my mind, relaxing my body and processing my emotions. Many years of formal meditation training and practice helped me work with my emotions in a healthier way. I recovered from my burnout and depression quickly. While I was attending a conference in Boston in 2014, I heard about Compassion Cultivation Training. This science-informed training, was developed at Stanford University’s School of Medicine. Over the years, I’ve taught kindness and compassion to individuals and to groups in organizations. Many of the people I train are doing work similar to what I did as a psychologist, intervening with children who have trauma histories and their families. These people suffer from depression, anxiety, and burnout. They find the training very powerful, especially once it is deployed to support them navigate their everyday stresses and challenges.