THE S4S MISSION
The mission of Songs for the Soul is to support the wellbeing of society's professional caregivers through storytelling and music and to foster a culture that celebrates and sustains compassionate care.
The idea for Songs for the Soul was born from my personal experience as a professional caregiver working through compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue, also called secondary traumatic stress, has been described as the “cost of caring” and can result in deep emotional, physical, and spiritual consumption leading to emotional pain and exhaustion. It occurs when empathetic caregivers indirectly experience the grief and suffering experienced by their clients/patients. Songs for the Soul aims to address compassion fatigue by combining the healing effects of expressive writing, storytelling, and music to facilitate a deeper exploration of the grief that may result from the professional caregiving experience.
For 14 years, I cared for people with cancer, first as an oncology nurse, and then as a nurse practitioner. It was meaningful work that I loved. Oncology nurses work closely with patients and their families, sometimes over a number of years, and the relationships were rich and dynamic. During this time, we offer hope in times of despair, we celebrate remissions, we support patients if their cancer recurs, and we comfort patients and their families when treatment is no longer working and death is imminent. Unfortunately, these unique aspects of the caregiving relationship may also increase the potential for cumulative professional grief.
I was not taught how to cope with professional grief in my nursing curricula; few nurses are.
My working environment also did not provide an effective system by which we could process professional loss. As I began to evaluate the physical, emotional, and spiritual toll my job was taking on my wellness, I realized that I was stuck in a perpetual state of grief. I felt emotionally "numb." I tried to journal about patients who had left lasting impressions in an attempt to articulate my grief. Writing about my experiences was helpful, but it not enough. I needed to experience a form of expression that would resonate deep enough that I could start to feel again. I needed to shake away the numbness. I needed to "sing it out." I hypothesized that by adding music to my story, I could access a healing expression of grief. I hired a songwriter and began the process of turning my story into a healing song. To put my story to music gave it an emotional expression that matched the intensity of my grief. I felt my soul take a breath.
I wanted to learn whether the combination of writing and music would help other nurses. In the spring of 2016, a group seven courageous nurses joined me in piloting this idea. The nurses met weekly for six weeks, writing about their nursing experiences, until each nurse had crafted a short story. At that time, I brought in a team of extraordinary song-writers for across the country: Natalia Zukerman (Brooklyn, NY), Erika Luckett (Sacramento, CA), Mandy Rowden (Austin, TX) and Kristin Davidson (Austin, TX). For a week, the songwriters met with the nurses to transform their nursing stories into healing songs. At the end of the week, the nurses and songwriters gave a performance for their colleagues, close friends, and family members.