Building provider resiliency relies on staying mindful about the quality of our life, remaining equipped to take care of ourselves, having the necessary support, and making time to combat stress and compassion fatigue, which accompanies our job. It is especially important when working in the helps industry, to understand the difference between compassion fatigue, burnout, and secondary trauma.
Certain occupations are at higher risk for being exposed to compassion fatigue (CF), including
attorneys, child protection workers, and veterinarians. Other occupations often exposed to CF include therapists, child welfare workers, nurses, radiology technologists, teachers, journalists, psychologists, police officers, paramedics, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), firefighters, animal welfare workers and health unit coordinators. Additionally, family members and other caregivers to people suffering from chronic illnesses, may also experience compassion fatigue.
What is compassion fatigue?
Compassion fatigue (CF) can be one of the most challenging parts of our work as providers or helpers. The first part of CF manifests as exhaustion, frustration, anger and depression typical of burnout. The second part of CF is the secondary traumatic stress, a negative feeling born in fear and work-related stress and trauma, which stems from helping those who experience traumatic stress and suffering.
What is burnout and secondary trauma?
Most people have heard of burnout and generally know what it means. Burnout is one of the elements of CF and it is oftentimes associated with hopelessness and challenges in handling work or doing your job effectively. These negative feelings often have a gradual onset. People report feeling their efforts are not making a difference, they have extremely high workloads or a non-supportive work environment. Higher scores on the burnout scale discussed below mean that you are at higher risk for burnout.
Another component of CF is secondary traumatic stress (STS). This relates to secondary exposure to extremely or traumatically stressful events. Some people can struggle from being exposed to other’s trauma especially if it is extremely traumatic and stressful. One may repeatedly hear stories about traumatic things that happen to others, which is called Vicarious Traumatization. This is often seen with therapists or emergency workers, but can also happen with prosecutors and law enforcement personnel. The symptoms of STS usually rapidly set in and are associated with a particular event. People exposed to secondary trauma may begin avoiding things that remind them of the event.
What is compassion satisfaction?
Compassion satisfaction relates to the pleasure from doing your work. Those with a healthy level of compassion satisfaction feel like it is a pleasure to help others through their work, feel positive about their colleagues and ability to contribute to the work environment and greater good of humanity.
Where do I learn more?
The good news is that there is a lot of research on the topic of compassion fatigue. The Professional Quality of Life: Compassion Satisfaction and Fatigue Questionnaire is a good starting point to understand the difference and measure your own levels of compassion satisfaction, burnout and secondary trauma. (B. Hudnall Stamm, 2009–2012. Professional Quality of Life: Compassion Satisfaction and Fatigue Version 5 (ProQOL). www.proqol.org.)
Downloading an App to your smartphone can also be helpful. Provider Resilience App (Virtues Project International) from the National www.virtuesproject.com can be downloaded to your smartphone, which has reminders, vacation timers, value cards and tools to help support and track your burnout and compassion fatigue levels.
Stay well. Stay resilient. The world needs you!