For those of us who work closely in a therapeutic relationship with people who have experienced trauma or other painful life events, compassion fatigue sometimes feels like an inherent occupational risk. Compassion fatigue, sometimes called secondary traumatic stress, is the condition of becoming utterly emotionally (and physically) exhausted after being exposed to others’ trauma for so long. Some of its most damaging symptoms include helplessness, feelings of dissatisfaction with your work, withdrawal, and absenteeism from work, and irritability.
Compassion fatigue is seen on those days when you feel like you just can’t do it anymore – you don’t have the emotional bandwidth for another painful story. It lurks in those guilty moments when you hope your client won’t show. It’s feeling like you aren’t doing anything to help anyone – you feel useless and helpless – so why bother trying anymore? Just as the name suggests, we become fatigued by holding so much compassion in our hearts for so long.
The most tragic consequence of compassion fatigue is the loss of good therapists because of this exhaustion and hopelessness. The good news is that compassion fatigue is both preventable and treatable. If you think you might be experiencing compassion fatigue, here are some ways to recover.
Self-care has become a popular concept these days, but it really is a key component of both preventing and recovering from compassion fatigue. Self-care looks different for everybody, but make sure your needs are being met. How is your work-life boundary? Are you spending enough time with those who replenish your energy? Do you take good care of yourself physically? These may sound like small things but can go a long way in helping you to feel less exhausted.
Do any organizational changes need to be made in your workplace to make it less likely that you and other employees experience compassion fatigue? For example, is the concept of compassion fatigue itself talked about openly or shamed? Does your organization or practice allow for enough time away from work? These may not be things in your control, but crucially important when looking at the risk factors for compassion fatigue.
Social support makes a big difference in overcoming compassion fatigue, but don’t be ashamed to also seek professional support. Therapists need therapists, too! There is no shame in needing a therapeutic environment where we can accept the gift of compassion and empathetic listening that we offer to others every day.
Reignite Passion Through Learning
Maybe you have come to feel that your work has no positive effect on your clients, and that adds to your sense of helplessness. I doubt very much that any therapist has no positive effect on their clients, but when you start feeling like whatever modality you use just isn’t working anymore, it may be time to learn another method that reignites your passion for this work.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) is a form of psychotherapy with roots in existing evidence-based therapies but shown to achieve benefits much more quickly – within 1 to 5 sessions. Clients with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other symptoms have shown benefits starting from the very first session. If this sounds exciting to you, connect with us for more information about ART and to schedule training with Colleen.