Case study: healing and advocacy in the face of violence

At Casa Xitla, a burnout prevention program helps activists and families of disappeared people find strength in the midst of pain.

When the fight for justice leads to burnout


Activists and families directly affected by violence frequently find themselves on the front lines of advocating for justice.

The grief and horror of loss are compounded by the traumatic experiences of searching for (and at times finding) victims, while navigating difficult justice systems. In addition to the risk of severe physical harm or retaliation, families and activists also encounter overwhelming fear, hopelessness, and despair.

In Mexico, our partners at Casa Xitla have spent years serving families of the disappeared, and those who accompany them. Along the way, they have cared for family members of disappeared people, along with journalists, advocates, human rights workers, and community leaders who found themselves completely depleted.

With a vision of restoring these individuals to a sustained, lasting state of well-being, our partners launched the Program Preventing Burnout.

“We must incorporate the person who is defending human rights; they are also important,” Pablo Romo says.

In spaces of social change and justice around the world, there can be a dangerous culture of martyrdom among those dedicated to important causes. At its worst, this culture can lead to the exploitation and burnout of the very people working toward change— the people we cannot afford to lose.

Pablo and his team are leading the charge in identifying and shifting this understanding toward a more inclusive, holistic approach to the justice fight.

This narrative shift has spirited the path forward to designing a program precisely to care for those on the front lines in a holistic way: restoring mind, heart, and body.



Mind, heart and body restoration


Throughout the program at Casa Xitla, participants reconnect with every aspect of their experience— including the effects on their physical, emotional, and mental health. Importantly, the team places emphasis on the integration of these experiences as part of a holistic healing process.

“We think about how our bodies speak to us… and which parts are asking for help,” says Martha Elena Herrera Welsh, who leads the movement therapy components of the program. 

The abandonment of one’s bodily wellbeing— a sense of disembodiment— is one of the dark ironies about the work many participants are engaged in. In many cases, they are forced to reckon with lost human beings and hurt human bodies, constantly at risk of their own danger or harm.

To live in the body, to care for ourselves in all our needs and vulnerabilities, is difficult when the destruction of bodies is at the center of the struggle for human rights.

And yet, through learning to reconnect with their own physical being, making contact with their full experience even in the presence of pain, allows for a shift in perspective. Martha Elena works with each participant to care for their bodies through simple stretching, mindful awareness, self-care, exercise, nutrition, and more.

“Here I realized that life is still worth living.”


In reconnecting with the fullness of their experience, and accompanying others who have endured similar horrific events, participants find meaning and purpose in the presence of their ongoing pain.

Some program participants choose to re-engage in their activism, continuing the fight for justice on behalf of victims and lost loved ones. They bring practices and perspectives from Casa Xitla to their own communities and collectives, where even more activists and families can benefit.

Others find themselves committing more readily to loved ones who are still around: grandchildren, children, siblings. They discover that kinship and joy are still available to them.

As with all initiatives that cultivate positive mental health and wellbeing, participants integrate new skills and perspectives— and they find they have more choices than they once imagined. More possibilities exist… and más vida: more life.