Aug 15, 2015

Mitigation of Transference of Emotion to Oncology Staff

About a year ago, I was asked by a Dallas-based hospital system to give them an overview of how I might be of assistance to their staff, specifically in the Oncology Department, to mitigate the transference of emotion from patients to the staff. Below, you will find my ‘Whitepaper’ describing the help and assistance I believe can be made available.


Being an Executive Coach, Master Life Coach, NLP Master Practitioner, and Master Hypnotist, I understand transference of emotion from a very personal level. I have worked with scores of clients that were medically diagnosed as having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), both military and non-military. As of the time of writing this paper, I have a 100% recovery rate of helping those clients return to becoming fully functional in their lives in only about 6 hours of sessions. Because of this success, I was invited to speak as a Subject Matter Expert to a large Defense Contractor about my work. And, if you work with the Healthcare Industry, you fully realize that PTSD is very closely related to Compassion Fatigue, in fact, PTSD was originally termed “Battle Fatigue”. Based on the knowledge of this connection, here is how both can be successfully and quickly minimized or eliminated:

The primary brain functions that are involved in Compassion fatigue and the empathetic feelings are Mirror Neurons, which are sometimes called Empathy Neurons. There are three levels of Mirror/Empathy Neurons:
• Those in the Superior Temporal Sulcus which predict and associate with what is happening in the present, immediately, and associate the current with behaviors and actions.
• The Mirror Neurons in the Right Temporoparietal Junction predict and associate in the mid-term and reflect our internal beliefs.
• Finally, the Mirror Neurons in the Medial Prefrontal Cortex serve for the long-term and are associated with predicting other’s preferences and personalities

A second area of the brain that is involved in Compassion Fatigue is the Insular Cortex. As the name indicates, Insular means “Island” or “Isolated” and it is the part of the brain that allows us to fully understand and realize that we are separate and distinct in the world. “I am me and I’m not you” and that “I am with you, but I am not you”.

In PTSD and Compassion Fatigue, a person’s “wiring” of the brain gets “crossed”. Just like when electrical circuits of a car or house are carrying voltage when they shouldn’t be, it can lead to disastrous results. The Empathy Neurons get hyper-stimulated so that they are firing when they shouldn’t be firing and they fire at a very rapid, intense rate. In people with PTSD, there is a measurable absence of a naturally-occurring substance in the brain call GABA (Gamma Aminobutyric Acid). GABA inhibits the firing of the neurons so that they have a slower, more relaxed pace. Of course, in PTSD and Compassion Fatigue, the Empathy Neurons are firing so rapidly about the traumatic event they experienced it causes them to ruminate the experience. This further embeds the mind-loop and causes the feeling of centrifugal force taking over, some describe it as ‘spinning out-of-control’, and then Critical Mass hits and the mind loop and emotions become self-sustaining . To exacerbate the problem, now the Insular Cortex becomes affected. The line between the person that saw the traumatic event and the people that were actually in the traumatic event becomes blurred. It’s no longer “I’m me and you’re you”, it’s “I’m me, and I’m you, too”. It’s as if the person observing the event had the event happen to them. Another affect is Survivor’s Guilt. In the case of a military person, this means that they feel guilty for having survived when those around them perished. In Compassion Fatigue, this could be that the staff had saved previous patients so how could they have failed this patient and their family?

So, between problems with the Mirror Neurons and the Insular Cortex, a person becomes dysfunctional from life. I believe this, or something very similar, is what happens to people with Compassion Fatigue. So, how can healthcare staff with Compassion Fatigue be assisted to return to ‘normal’?

By using a combination of coaching and hypnosis (Coachnosis), there are several of ways of successfully and effectively approaching PTSD and Compassion Fatigue. I choose not to have my clients go into deep detail and relive the traumatic event(s) over and over, as some methodologies do. This method seems odd to me because it is what the people who have PTSD and Compassion Fatigue are already doing. Reliving the traumatic event over-and-over again is the problem! The therapies that duplicate reliving the trauma repeatedly are titled Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Prolonged Exposure Therapy, and Virtual Reality Therapy. In studies that have been conducted which include veterans with PTSD, the subjects reported that the therapies noted above made them regress, instead of moving forward. The subjects reported an increase in nightmares, flashbacks, social isolation, anger, along with suicidal and homicidal thoughts. (Reference)

My four-part process is easy, quick, and, so far, works 100% of the time:

  • It reduces the stress the person is experiencing to ‘normal’ levels
  • It restores the ability of the brain to produce GABA in order to slow down the speed at which the neurons are firing
  • It creates the capacity for the Insular Cortex to reorganize itself back to its correct state of functioning, and
  • It creates the capacity for people to have thoughts without feeling the emotions associated to the thoughts and the ability to feel emotions of a situation without creating a mental association.
  • I hope this information was helpful and I’d love to receive your thoughts and comments.

    Additional information: Here is a link to a TED Talk where Neuro-Physicist Jill Bolte Taylor discusses the mind/emotions link: And, for an in-depth discussion on processes to help people manage their minds and emotions, please see my book, The 90-Second Mind Manager

    Dr. Edward Lewellen is a Master Executive Coach, leadership and sales expert, and keynote speaker for some of the largest global organizations.

    Author of The 90-Second Mind Manager