The concept of compassion fatigue has been around for twenty five years. Often closely linked (and at times incorrectly used interchangeably with) burnout, compassion fatigue has been a focus for researchers interested in mitigating the risks workers face with prolonged exposure to the suffering of others. Leading experts are calling for a change in terminology, suggesting that ‘empathic strain’ is a more accurate term due to the differing neural networks involved in empathy and compassion. See below for a brief overview of the discussion.
Within the helping professions we often focus on the more challenging end of the joy - pain spectrum in this work: exhaustion, compassion fatigue, secondary stress and vicarious trauma. This blog series seeks to rectify that, with Part 1 focusing on vicarious resilience, Part 2 unpacking compassion satisfaction, and Part 3 addressing the importance of, and risks associated with, connecting with others. Cultivating awareness of both ends of the joy - pain spectrum in the helping professions is essential in supporting worker wellbeing.
Post-traumatic growth is a familiar concept to many. But what about other positive impacts that workers can experience? Vicarious resilience and compassion satisfaction help us to understand the ways that workers in helping or caring roles can be positively impacted, or even transformed, by witnessing the strength and resilience of others. Holding an awareness of both ends of the spectrum - the joy and the pain in the work - may hold the key for a healthy, successful and durable career.
When so many of our challenges are a result of pressures from work and (rather topically) society in general – reference to ‘self care’ can seem to be a dismissal at best. What of the larger systems and social mechanisms at play? How can we look after ourselves and each other? Social buffering and ideas about connection and empathy give us some clues.
We don’t leave ourselves behind when we go to work, we take our whole selves in. Some days it is easy to keep ourselves separate. But when we are tired, have a special connection to a client or patient, have difficulties of our own, or are touched by the moment, it is not always possible, or appropriate, to maintain a separation. We feel their joy and we feel their pain. And sometimes it touches ours.