C-head wellness corner: Compassion fatigue.

Author:Vassons, Sonya

It has been shown that when we are suffering from compassion fatigue, we work more rather than less. What suffers is our health, our relationships and our personal lives and, eventually, our clients.

Working as a helping professional can challenge a person's emotional and physical health. Compassion fatigue expert Charles Figley has described it as the "cost of caring" for others in emotional pain. Other researchers coined the term "vicarious trauma," which has been used to describe the profound impact that this specialized work has on helpers.

The helping field has begun to recognize that workers are permanently changed by the work they do, whether through direct exposure to traumatic events (working as an ambulance driver, police officer or emergency room worker) or experiencing secondary exposure, such as listening to clients talk about traumatic events they experienced or working with clients who are chronically depressed or feeling helpless in the face of poverty or anguish.

Researchers have discovered overwhelming evidence that exposure to painful stories over time and across different clients provides a fertile environment for a negative transformation to occur within the helper. These changes can affect both their personal and professional lives with symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, intrusive imagery, loss of hope, exhaustion and irritablility. It can also lead to profound shifts in the way helpers view the world and their loved ones. Helpers may become dispirited and increasing cynical.

Helpers can protect themselves from the effects of compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma. The first step is ac...

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