Fighting Compassion Fatigue
Mary Ann Jones
Grand Canyon University
Foundations of Spirituality in Healthcare
December 15, 2012
Fighting Compassion Fatigue
Healthcare providers are one of the highest at risk for compassion fatigue, also referred to as vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress, second hand shock and secondary stress reaction (ABA, 2011). It often occurs when one gives too much of them self to others and does not remember to take care of their own needs which can be extremely harmful, leads to destructive behaviors, overtime, and the health care provider loses the ability to feel and show compassion. This paper will explain what compassion fatigue is, identify the warning signs and different ways to avoid it, as well as how to recover back to wellness once it has been recognized that one has this condition..
Compassion fatigue is defined as having increasing emotional, physical, and psychological effect of exposure to traumatic stories or events when working in a helping capacity, added with the demands and stress of everyday life (Pfifferling & Gilley, 2000). Compassion fatigue should not be confused with burnout because they are different. Burnout happens over a period of time and is when one is dissatisfied with their job but compassion fatigue is more of a narrowed focus. The effects of compassion fatigue can have an impact on how the health care provider views the world and life around them. Compassion fatigue occurs when healthcare providers are giving a large amount of energy and compassion to others during the course of their care, but are not given enough or any individual support to encourage them and show them that the world is a positive place. “There is a cost to caring. Sometimes we feel we are losing our sense of self to the clients we serve. Those who have enormous capacity for feeling and expressing empathy tend to be more at risk of compassion stress” (Figley, 1995). No matter how we look at it, compassion fatigue affects health care provider’s personal life, work, and their patients. The only good thing about compassion fatigue is that once it has been identified there is treatment.
Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue
The symptoms and warning signs of compassion fatigue can include, but are not limited too; withdrawing socially, feeling overwhelmed, physically and emotionally exhausted, lack of interest or concern, isolation of one’s self from others, depression, anger, physical illness, headaches, irritability, secretively self-medicating ( alcohol and drugs), lacking the ability to keep empathy and objectivity in balance (Pfifferling & Gilley, 2000). Those who have suffered from compassion fatigue describe it as the feeling of being in a downward spiral or a vortex and that the more they work and the more they do for others, they have a rapid decrease in compassion until eventually they run out of it all together. Depending on what job healthcare providers do or what their prior experiences are they could possibly be more susceptible to compassion fatigue or get it quicker than others. The results of having compassion fatigue can be anguish and distress, but the key to successfully treating it is being able to recognize the symptoms early in order to start the healing process quicker.
Causes of Compassion Fatigue Compassion fatigue rate has been rapidly rising as the results of the stress placed on healthcare providers physically, emotionally and mentally. “Compassion is a limited resource, a system rooted in cognitive networks that tire and need refueling. It is not always rational” (Carey, 2011). Healthcare providers’ job load has significantly increased with the requirement to do more charting or paperwork, they are caring for sicker patients, working longer hours, are expected to be independent in care giving with little resources, work with less staff and are constantly trying to measure up to