Who is susceptible to Compassion Fatigue?
Are you a caregiver to others, whether it be a loved one, as part of your job or do you take care of animals?
Do you often feel tired with low energy and just seem to be burned out?
Have you lost the desire to continue with your work or feel numb as a result of taking care of another living being?
If so, you may be experiencing Compassion Fatigue or what has also been referred to as caregiver’s fatigue.
If you work in a hospital, nursing home or caretaker at home or if you are an animal caregiver – shelter workers, veterinarians, veterinary technicians, rescue groups, etc, just being exposed to the pain and suffering of others sometimes leads to increased risk of stress and burnout. Because you chose to be a caregiver means you have a heightened sensitivity and compassion, which makes you more susceptible to compassion fatigue. It is not realistic to think we can deal with emotionally charged situations long term without being impacted.
The very personality type that drew you into the helping profession or makes you love animals also makes you susceptible to compassion fatigue. You may also have a strong desire to reduce pain and are compassionate, caring and sensitive to suffering. You may tend to enjoy working with others but may have trouble setting boundaries, saying “no,” and making work-life balance a priority. Your work may involve long hours with no definite “end” in sight.
What makes caregivers prone to Compassion Fatigue?
Because you are passionate about the work you do or the people or animals you care for, it is common to neglect self-care practices. You may try and work harder and harder to feel better about work, which actually increases stress. If you are a veterinary professional, it is sometimes harder dealing with the pet owner than the animal. There may be differing perspectives on goals, necessary procedures, safety risks, costs of care, abuse or neglect that get in the way of taking care of the animal’s needs while ensuring the pet’s overall well-being. If you are taking care of another human being, it is also common to give your heart and soul to their well-being while neglecting your own self-care.
Caregivers tend to be sensitive to the emotions of others and may, over time, take on those emotions as their own. In her book When Helping Hurts: Compassion Fatigue in the Veterinary Profession, Kathleen Ayl, Psy.D., mentions that one of the characteristics present in helping professionals is sensitivity to suffering. She states that, according to research conducted in 1999 by William Hutchison and a team from the University of Toronto, “mirror neurons” create an empathic connection between the observers and those who are experiencing the pain. For example, have you ever felt the suffering of another just by witnessing or hearing about the traumatic or painful event? On a positive side, have you ever experienced happiness or joy from witnessing someone’s success as if it were your own? These emotions are real, and an excess of traumatic experiences can affect caregivers if they do not take care of themselves. If these emotions are not released, compassion fatigue may result.
Is there a difference between stress, burnout and compassion fatigue?
Stress is seen as the accumulation of pressure; over time, which may result in health issues, psychological strain and possible burnout. Burnout is reduced interest in work or job, which leads to excessive feelings of being tired, apathetic and exhausted; many people leave jobs because of burnout, then feel revitalized once they get new jobs. Compassion fatigue follows a person from job to job and endures until the true cause is dealt with. If you are an animal care worker, Compassion fatigue can occur after helping both people and animals, witnessing their trauma day after day, while not paying attention to self-care. Some helping professionals may leave their chosen fields believing they are experiencing burnout, when in fact, they are experiencing compassion fatigue – evident when they experience the same exhaustion in new positions.
What I have learned over the years as a helping professional
Over the years of working in the helping profession, I learned the hard way how important it is to have a balanced lifestyle. I know it’s hard to focus on yourself first, especially when others may have more obstacles or challenges to overcome but without you keeping yourself strong and healthy, you won’t be able to do the important work to help others. By practicing basic self-care, while recognizing some of the symptoms associated with compassion fatigue, you can stay in the field longer, continuing to provide compassionate care over time.
I am a Veterinary Social Worker and completed extensive training in trauma-focused care as part of a health care organization that worked with professionals who showed signs of stress and burnout. I provided both individual and group sessions that started with identifying symptoms then determining how to make changes to improve unhealthy habits and increase quality of life.
There is Hope
If you believe you have symptoms of compassion fatigue, there is hope. You can regain your life, your happiness and keep doing the work that you are passionate about. By understanding that you have the power to make changes, you can take back your life.
How I Can Help
I work with helping professionals and animal caregivers who need help dealing with work-related stressors. They wonder whether they are burned out, or experiencing compassion fatigue. Some suffer from depression and some from anxiety. They wonder whether they should leave their fields. If attention is not paid to regular self-care, there is risk of losing these caring people to less-caring professions.
Awareness of symptoms and triggers is imperative and can often reverse or reduce the effects of compassion fatigue.
How to Contact Me for Help
If you or anyone you know suffers from compassion fatigue, please contact me at 314-899-7140 for a free 15 min phone consultation. We can discuss your individual situation and what services might fit your need. You can also email me at allisonwhite@wellnessalleycom.
In the future I plan to start group sessions and consultation groups so please let me know of your interest and please stay tuned for updates.