Trauma work can take a toll on providers as well. Taking good care of ourselves enables us to continue to provide the best possible services. The following is a presentation I have given to several agencies:
When helping others precipitates a compromise in our own well-being we are suffering from compassion fatigue. This is another term for secondary traumatic stress. The idea here is that even secondary exposure to stressful and/or traumatic events can produce many of the same reactions common to post traumatic stress. Our very compassion and empathic connection, the thing that makes us effective helpers, seems to be what puts us at risk. As many of us know, being around the pain and suffering of others can be “emotionally contagious”. It’s difficult to see and care deeply about the suffering of others without feeling some pain ourselves.
Untreated, compassion fatigue can get worse and lead to burnout. The key is prevention or catching it early. Compassion fatigue can be prevented by consistent self-care.
One of the ironies of the helping professions is that we are not always so good at practicing what we preach! We owe it to ourselves (and our clients) to acknowledge the importance of our own health, emotional balance, satisfaction, and well-being in order to be optimal care providers.
If you think this may be an issue for you, consider the American Psychological Association’s coping suggestions:
- Self-assessment: Ask yourself, “How am I doing?” What do I need? How have I changed? Discuss the questions and answers with a colleague, friend, or therapist.
- Protect yourself: Be aware of your vulnerability and the negative consequences of your work, Strive for balance, and Maintain connection with others.
- Address the stress of your work: Practice self-care, Nurture yourself by focusing on sources of pleasure and joy, and Allow yourself to escape when necessary.
- Transform the negative impact of your work: Focus on finding meaning in your work and day-to-day activities, Challenge negativity, and Participate in community building activities, joining with others around a common purpose or value.
- Connect with yourself and with others: Pay attention to your inner experience, Talk about it with others, Do not work alone, Ask for support as well as offering it to others
I’d also love to hear your thoughts and the strategies you employ to keep yourselves recharged while doing this demanding and crucial work.