When handling trauma, therapists, counselors, health professionals, caregivers, and others that are helping, seek to understand the person, get a pulse on the crisis, engage in triaging the most devastating issues, and offer interventions that help to restore, or create in some cases, stability. None of these previously stated tasks are easy. In fact, the challenges that these helpers face, especially in working with trauma, can lead to an apathetic state of mind, body, and spirit. The most recent name for this affliction is compassion fatigue.
Professionals and helpers may become traumatized by fully experiencing the stories of those who they are trying to help. This is known as secondary traumatic stress. Recognizing secondary trauma is essential in preventing compassion fatigue. It is helpful for professionals and helpers to identify and bring awareness to their helping health, so to speak. Helpers are humans, not robots, and need support as much as the people they are helping. It is important for professionals and helpers, as they seek to become more in tune with those they serve, understand the impact and nature that trauma has had on people’s lives.The helper needs help too. Compassion fatigue causes sufferers to find a way of coping with their vicarious trauma, which manifests as intense emotional, physical, and psychosocial challenges. The goal would be to increase a helper’s fulfillment of their work. This enjoyment and fulfillment can be described as compassion satisfaction. Along with satisfaction would be for a professional and helper to identify and improve their personal and professional self-care.
Finding peace and serenity in one’s life is essential for wellness and vitality. It can be tough to deal with stress amongst a seemingly endless borage of other issues. The goal would be for professionals and helpers to implement relaxation into their daily lives to achieve some inner peace amongst the demands of therapy, helping, and caregiving. Self-care is essential. Self-care practices must include multiple physical, psychological, and emotional components. Addressing all these areas offers a comprehensive strategy to overcome the overwhelming effects of compassion fatigue.
Thomas R. Metzinger, LCSW, CCHt (USMC Veteran)