As audiologists and speech-language pathologists, we truly care about our students, clients and patients. Helping change people’s lives is a primary reason why many pursue a career in communication sciences and disorders. But at what cost? Is there such a thing as caring too much? Yes, it’s possible, and it’s known as compassion fatigue.
A consequence of possessing a strong sense of empathy, combined with repeated or prolonged interaction with people who have experienced trauma, compassion fatigue can have negative physical, emotional and cognitive effects. Those of us in helping professions are at risk for developing compassion fatigue. If we notice the signs early, however, we can take steps to ensure our ability to maintain a healthy amount of compassion throughout our careers.
Look for one or all of the following warning signs of compassion fatigue:
- Physical: loss of endurance, strength or energy, as well as an increase in accident-proneness and/or physical complaints.
- Emotional: reduced enthusiasm, increased irritability, and emotionally overwhelmed, possibly leading to shutting down or the desire to quit.
- Social: inability to share in suffering, indifference, inability to be supportive to family and friends.
- Spiritual: poor judgment and/or disinterest in examining one’s own thoughts or feelings.
- Intellectual: boredom or impaired ability to concentrate.
Noticing and acting on multiple, prolonged signs of compassion fatigue in yourself or your colleagues lessens the chance that symptoms will build and create a negative snowball effect.
The following tips can reduce or prevent symptoms of compassion fatigue:
- Empower yourself and others. Educate yourself and co-workers on the risk factors of compassion fatigue. Awareness is the first step toward change.
- Take care of yourself physically and mentally. Include physical exercise, try a meditation practice (there are several apps with short, guided meditations), get out in nature, and discuss how you’re feeling with a friend or professional.
- Try team-based interventions. Following the guidelines of interprofessional practice, reach out to other professionals working with your clients, and collaborate with them to treat cases when appropriate.
- Set up environmental safeguards. Promote and advocate for a healthy supportive work environment. Talk to a supervisor about taking such measures as staff inclusion in bereavement intervention, in-service sessions on self-care and handling compassion fatigue, and facilitation of peer-support networks.
Compassion fatigue exists, but knowing about the signs can go a long way toward prevention. If you identify compassion fatigue symptoms in yourself, it doesn’t mean you don’t care—but rather you care so much you haven’t been able to care for yourself.
Use the tips mindfully to ensure your students, clients and patients get the best of you rather than what’s left of you.
Do you have tips for preventing or reducing compassion fatigue? Please share in the comment section below.
Kathryn Williams, MS, CCC-SLP, is the owner of Santa Rosa Speech & Language Services, a private practice in Santa Rosa, California. She is also a certified compassion fatigue professional though the International Association of Trauma Professionals. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram @santarosaspeechtherapy, and on her website www.santarosaspeechtherapy.com. Katiespeech@gmail.com