What is Compassion Fatigue?
Compassion Fatigue is also referred to as vicarious trauma or secondary trauma, it can occur for any individual working with people who have been traumatized and mirrors the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Osofsky, Putnam & Lederman, 2008; Figley, 1995). Many types of professionals, such as physicians, psychotherapists, human service workers and emergency workers, are vulnerable to developing this type of stress, though only a subset of such workers experience it. Compassion fatigue is associated with a sense of confusion, helplessness, and a greater sense of isolation from supporters than is seen with burnout. (Figley, 1995, 2002). It is preventable and treatable, however, if unaddressed, the symptoms can result in problems with mental and physical health, strained personal relationships, and poor work performance Pryce, Shackelford, & Pryce, 2007).
What can I do if I am experiencing Compassion Fatigue?
According to the U.S. Department of Human Services and Administration for Children and Families, there are two pathways for addressing the effects of compassion fatigue prevention and treatment.
Individual Prevention Strategies to Consider:
Life balance – work to establish and maintain a diversity of interests, activities and relationships.
Relaxation techniques – ensure downtime by practicing meditation or guided imagery.
Contact with nature – garden or hike to remain connected to the earth and help maintain perspective about the world.
Creative expression – things like drawing, cooking, or photography expand emotional experiences.
Assertiveness training – learn to be able to say “no” and to set limits when necessary.
Interpersonal communication skills – improve written and verbal communication to enhance social and professional support.
Cognitive restructuring – regularly evaluate experiences and apply problem-solving techniques to challenges.
Time management – set priorities and remain productive and effective.
Plan for coping – determine skills and strategies to adopt or enhance when signs of compassion fatigue begin to surface.
Individual Treatment Strategies to Consider:
Focusing on self-care – making a healthy diet, exercise, and regular sleep priorities reduces adverse stress effects.
Journaling – writing about feelings related to helping or care giving and about anything that has helped or been comforting can help make meaning out of negative experiences.
Seeking professional support – working with a counselor who specializes in trauma to process distressing symptoms and experiences provides additional perspectives and ideas.
Joining a support group – talking through experiences and coping strategies with others who have similar circumstances can enhance optimism and hope.
Learning new self-care strategies – adopting a new stress management technique such as yoga or progressive muscle relaxation can reduce adverse physical stress symptoms.
Asking for help – asking social supports or co-workers to assist with tasks or responsibilities can hasten healing.
Recognizing success and creating meaning – identifying aspects of helping that have been positive and important to others assists with resolving trauma and distress.