Compassion fatigue

Compassion fatigue is the emotional toll that happens when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another. Compassion fatigue, sometimes referred to as secondary traumatic stress, is common among caregiving professionals such as teachers, counselors, social workers, doctors and nurses. Any professional who works directly with traumatized children or adults, and is in a position to hear the recounting of traumatic experiences, is at a risk of compassion fatigue.

Some common signs and symptoms include hopelessness, anger and cynicism, inability to listen to/avoidance of client, chronic exhaustion, minimizing and guilt. It is also common for individuals experiencing secondary trauma to re-experience their own personal trauma.

Strategies for prevention include practicing self-care, balancing caseloads, maintaining healthy boundaries and utilizing flextime scheduling. It is also important to get proper rest, eat well, exercise, and practice mindfulness.

When planning your self-care, think about including something to nurture your physical self, mental self, emotional self and spiritual self. What fits into each bucket will be different for everyone. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network suggests thinking of self-care as having three basic aspects:

  • Awareness: Take time to reflect on how you are feeling, check in with your stress levels, and consider whether your everyday actions align with the person you want to be.
  • Balance: Seek balance in all areas of your life including work, personal, family, rest and leisure.
  • Connection: Build connections and supportive relationships with co-workers, students, friends, family and community.