Are you drowning in empathy??

Compassion fatigue is a thing.

As practitioners working within the health, social and justice sectors we often love the buzz of seeing people grow and thrive through adversity. I know I do…I love to see the people I work with find that lightbulb moment of clarity, that it’s time to take control of their own lives and make changes for the better.

team yellow

Although slightly different the impact of both Vicarious Trauma (a transformation caused from engaging with traumatised clients and listening to their traumatic experiences) and Compassion Fatigue (individuals exposed to stressful experiences in their day to day work activities) are a real concern for health, social and justice workers. Both can be caused through a range of different reasons but commonly when people work directly with victims of disasters, trauma, or illness, it makes absolute sense that these professionals may be at risk from experiencing both.

I have seen it a lot in my work with new project workers, support staff, volunteers and specialist teams.  People who are excited, willing to put the work in to see the results but often cross those boundaries into ‘doing for’ instead of ‘doing with’ and then risk overwhelming not only the client but themselves too.  Substance Misuse, Mental Health, Domestic Abuse, Offending Behaviour, all great examples of the trauma that professionals are supporting people with daily.  Individuals who are being exposed to stressful experiences in their day to day work activities but also battling the stress of high caseloads, team capacity issues and of course any personal concerns.  As helping professionals, our career choices come with a personal cost so we often find that we have to put personal beliefs aside, manage stress and overwhelm, and often struggle to get the emotional support needed to cope with the traumas that are dealt with daily. 

There needs to be a real effort to combat compassion fatigue and prepare people who are working within these professions to keep safe, healthy and productive.  By learning how to build resilience; relax in stressful situations; becoming more intentional in their work so that they can maintain integrity; find people who are supportive and understand the risks of compassion fatigue, and of course focus on self-care.

By becoming consciously aware that compassion fatigue and burnout early on, then we can build the capability to seek the help before any negative impact is felt. Self-awareness of compassion fatigue and burnout flow into the mental and physical management that keep those feelings under control. When a worker makes the time to look after themselves their personal life and work life are both positively influenced.

Prevention Top Tips:

Personal self-care such as self-compassion, self-awareness, balance, rest, escape, and play.

Social self-care such as creating a connection with others, create a community that can find the small successes and meaning in the work completed, 

Organisation support such as opportunities for reflective practice, allowing autonomy over  the workload to set own targets and goals, creating policies and working environments that facilitate staff (and therefore client) well-being.

Once you know your personal limitations, you are likely to become less frustrated, less overwhelmed and enjoy your role a lot more.