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Compassion Fatigue

Sierra Israel-Schned, Oleksandr (Sasha) Kondrashov, and Ani Dingamtar. December 2019

What is compassion fatigue?

Compassion is a “feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by suffering or misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the pain or remove its cause” (webster’s, 1989, p. 229). Although professional boundaries should always be acknowledged and followed, the therapeutic alliance is built out of the client liking and trusting his or her therapist. Therefore, these feelings are directly related to the expression of empathy and compassion of the practitioner (Figley, 2002). Moreover, because the therapist/patient relationship is based on feelings of empathy, genuineness, and unconditional positive regard, the emotional and interpersonal bond is a unique but essential component to a healthy therapeutic alliance (Ardito & Rabellino, 2011). Therefore, it is important for the practitioner in these emotional therapeutic relationships to pay close attention to their own mental and physical health. 

What does compassion fatigue mean for social work?

Compassion fatigue is not limited to the social work profession, however as ‘caring professionals’ we work closely with individuals who have experienced trauma. Vicarious trauma often referred to as the “cost of caring” (Figley, 1982) is a phenomenon where counsellors/social workers are exposed to therapeutic dialogue where trauma survivors share their stories. Although this work is meaningful and necessary therapeutic partnerships can lead to emotional exhaustion, this is referred to as compassion fatigue (CF). Therefore, paying close attention to our emotional and physiological health is imperative for providing empathetic and compassionate allyship to those we work alongside. 

How you can recognize compassion fatigue (signs and symptoms)?

As mentioned above, It is important to pay close attention to your wellbeing when engaging in therapeutic conversations. The signs and symptoms of CF will vary from individual, however, bellow is a list of some signs and symptoms to look out for: 

  • Sadness and Grief 
  • Avoidance or dread of working with some clients
  • Reduced ability to feel empathy towards patients or families 
  • Somatic complaints 
  • Addictions
  • Nightmares
  • Frequent use of sick days 
  • changes in beliefs, expectations assumptions 
  • detachment
  • decreased intimacy 
  • Racing thoughts
  • numbness 
  • health concerns 
  • decreased creativity 
  • loneliness (transitional support, n.d)

What you can do to stay empowered (practical tips, strategies and tools)

Staying empowered can be difficult, however, you are not alone in your journey. There are ways to balance and even prevent compassion fatigue, which include:

  • Living more consciously
  • Knowing when to slow down
  • Reflection 
  • Physical activity 
  • healthy eating habits 

 It is important to know self and map out formal and informal supports to build resilience.  Understanding and recognizing your limits to your work is crucial for knowing when it is time to slow down. 

Inspiration Quotes about Compassion Fatigue

“Slowly you may have transformed from a helper to one in need of help. It’s important to talk about this, to identify the wounds you carry.”

― Jenn Bruer, Helping Effortlessly: A Book of Inspiration and Healing

“I discovered that compassion fatigue is a real thing. Emotions, so strong at first, can easily shift into apathy. The subsequent guilt is paralyzing; it can prevent us from ever doing anything and freeze us into inaction. No wonder some people live for themselves, unaware of or unengaged with those who desperately need help. When global problems overwhelm, the human tendency is to do nothing.”

― Chris Marlow, Doing Good Is Simple: Making a Difference Right Where You Are

More quotes on Goodreads 

Where you can learn more about compassion fatigue  

We are fortunate to live in a time where access to great resources is just a click away. Below are resources that can help guide you on the path of self-care and compassion fatigue prevention. 

The Compassion Fatigue Podcast with Jennifer Blough, LPC 

The Compassion Fatigue Podcast provides self-care tips, stress management techniques, and support to animal welfare professionals including shelter workers, veterinary staff, rescue workers, animal control officers, humane investigators, animal rights activists, wildlife conservationists, animal attorneys, pet sitters, dog walkers, groomers, volunteers, foster parents, ethical vegetarians and vegans, and all other animal lovers. Professional counsellor Jennifer Blough interviews experts on the best ways to combat compassion fatigue and burnout and cultivate compassion satisfaction

Click here  

The Figley Institute Website

Figley Institute offers cutting edge training and continuing education programs to those who provide relief to emotionally traumatized individuals, families, businesses, and communities. 

The Figley Institute: Basics of Compassion Fatigue Work Book Click here

To provide each participant with the knowledge and skills necessary to reduce the secondary impact of working with traumatized populations.’

Compassion Fatigue among Healthcare, Emergency and Community Service Workers: A Systematic Review click here

Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project (CFAP) website

CFAP Founder Patricia Smith recently gave a presentation at the TEDx SanJuanIsland event. Check it out Here !  

If you find any additional resources please share them in the comments.

Keep learning and sharing your knowledge.

Sierra, Sasha and Ani.

References

Adams, R. E., Boscarino, J. A., & Figley, C. R. (2006). Compassion fatigue and psychological distress among social workers: A validation study. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 76(1), 103-108. doi:10.1037/0002-9432.76.1.103

Ardito, R.B, Rabellino D. (2011) Therapeutic alliance and outcome of psychotherapy: historical excursus, measurements, and prospects for research. Front Psychol. 2011;2:270.:10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00270

Blough, J. (n.d.) The compassion fatigue podcast. Retrieved from https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/the-compassion-fatigue-podcast 

Cocker, F., & Joss, N. (2016). Compassion fatigue among healthcare, emergency and community service workers: A systematic review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 13(6), 618. doi:10.3390/ijerph13060618

Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.compassionfatigue.org/index.html

Figley Institute (2012).  Workbook. Retrieved from http://www.figleyinstitute.com/documents/Workbook_AMEDD_SanAntonio_2012July20_RevAugust2013.pdf

Figley, C. R. (Ed.). (2002). Treating compassion fatigue. Routledge.

Good therapy (n.d.). Compassion fatigue. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/compassion-fatigue

Smith, P. (2017). How to manage compassion fatigue in caregiving | Patricia Smith | TEDxSanJuanIsland. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7keppA8XRas

Transitional Support (n.d). Burnout vs. compassion fatigue. Retrieved from: http://transitionalsupport.com.au/transitional-phase/compassion-fatigue-trauma/ 

Additional Resources

Boyle, D. A. (2015). Compassion fatigue: The cost of caring. Nursing2019, 45(7), 48-51. Retrieved from https://journals.lww.com/nursing/Fulltext/2015/07000/Compassion_fatigue__The_cost_of_caring.15.aspx

Coetzee, S. K., & Laschinger, H. K. (2018). Toward a comprehensive, theoretical model of compassion fatigue: A n integrative literature review. Nursing & health sciences, 20(1), 4-15.

Diaconescu, M. (2015). Burnout, secondary trauma and compassion fatigue in social work. Revista de Asistenţă Socială, (3), 57-63. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/03b1/b5fc11bb545a9e61f0baf2cb5420df9daf52.pdf

Hamilton, S., Tran, V., & Jamieson, J. (2016). Compassion fatigue in emergency medicine: the cost of caring. Emergency Medicine Australasia, 28(1), 100-103. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Jennifer_Jamieson2/publication/290963237_Compassion_fatigue_in_emergency_medicine_The_cost_of_caring/links/5a711231aca272e425ed3b0a/Compassion-fatigue-in-emergency-medicine-The-cost-of-caring.pdf

Kapoulitsas, M., & Corcoran, T. (2015). Compassion fatigue and resilience: A qualitative analysis of social work practice. Qualitative Social Work, 14(1), 86-101. Retrieved from http://vuir.vu.edu.au/24738/1/QSW%20final.pdf

Lynch, S. H. (2018). Looking at compassion fatigue differently: Application to family caregivers. American Journal of Health Education, 49(1), 9-11.

Pehlivan, T., & Güner, P. (2018). Compassion fatigue: The known and unknown. Journal of Psychiatric Nursing/Psikiyatri Hemsireleri Dernegi, 9(2). Retrieved from https://www.journalagent.com/phd/pdfs/PHD-25582-REVIEW-PEHLIVAN%5BA%5D.pdf

Pelon, S. B. (2017). Compassion fatigue and compassion satisfaction in hospice social work. Journal of social work in end-of-life & palliative care, 13(2-3), 134-150.

Sheppard, K. (2016). Compassion fatigue: Are you at risk. American Nurse Today, 11(1), 53-55. Retrieved from https://www.americannursetoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/ant1-Compassion-Fatigue-1222.pdf

Wagaman, M. A., Geiger, J. M., Shockley, C., & Segal, E. A. (2015). The role of empathy in burnout, compassion satisfaction, and secondary traumatic stress among social workers. Social work, 60(3), 201-209.

Yi, J., Kim, J., Akter, J., Molloy, J. K., Ah Kim, M., & Frazier, K. (2018). Pediatric oncology social workers’ experience of compassion fatigue. Journal of psychosocial oncology, 36(6), 667-680. Yi, J., Kim, M. A., Choi, K., Kim, S., & O’Connor, A. (2018). When does compassion fatigue hit social workers? Caring for oncology patients in Korea. Qualitative Social Work, 17(3), 337-354.


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