Compassion fatigue among first and second responders is a very serious threat. As an individual who is responsible for assisting those in crisis, the responder must be careful he or she does not become a victim to his or her own desire to help.
One might ask, “What is compassion fatigue or, in some circles, simply, ‘self-care’?”
Compassion fatigue is also called “vicarious dramatization” or secondary traumatization (Figley, 1995). It is the emotional residue or strain of exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events. It differs from burnout, but can co-exist. Compassion fatigue can occur due to exposure on one case or can be due to a cumulative level of trauma.
By definition, burnout is the cumulative process marked by emotional exhaustion and withdrawal associated with increased workload and institutional stress and is not trauma-related. Primary traumatic stress is inherent in the extreme event, such as what was immediately experienced or witnessed, especially those things most contributing to a traumatic response.
The four stages of burnout have been identified as enthusiasm, stagnation, frustration and apathy. Not only are caregivers vulnerable, but members of the team and family are as well. Caregivers/team members should not intentionally expose themselves to trauma, unless required to perform a mission.
It is imperative when training individuals who are in a caretaker role to be aware of when compassion fatigue can strike. At the Family Services Bureau of Newark, an affiliate of New Community Corporation, a trainer and/or therapist is responsible for teaching all of our therapists and case managers throughout the enterprise to acknowledge self-care.
Among many topics, one area that is stressed is life-balance. The following are some helpful hints for life balance:
• Keep balance in your life
• Practice excellent self-care.
• Nurture yourself by putting activities in your schedule that are sources of pleasure, joy and diversion.
• Allow yourself to take mini-escapes—these relieve the intensity of your work
• Transform the negative impact of your work (find meaning, challenge negativity, find gratitude, etc.).
• Get medical treatment, if needed, to relieve symptoms that interfere with daily functioning—don’t use alcohol or drugs to self-medicate.
• Get professional help when needed to get back on track. We all need coaches and consultants at times.
• It is imperative that each of us take the time to practice self-care!
Source: The American Institute of Stress