A Word to Trauma Therapists
"Who taught you all this Doctor?"
The reply came promptly:
Compassion fatigue, the emotional residue of exposure from working with the suffering of others, is when one experiences an extreme state of tension and preoccupation about the distress of those they serve. This experience differs from burnout, which brings feelings of being emotionally overextended and exhausted with one's work and when one loses the ability to feel for others, or to continue to feel competent to do the work. Compassion fatigue on the other hand creates toxicity by the amount of exposure the caregiver has to the trauma and pain of others. We can lose perspective about ourselves or about the people who count on us. We may continue to work even when it is toxic, unconsciously reenacting some part of our past, unable to stop to replenish our exhausted reserves.
Our task, as therapists who work with survivors, and as human beings in relationship with others, is to be mindful and aware of the what keeps us from being fully alive in our work and relationships. It may mean that we seriously assess the impact and cost of the work re-nourishing ourselves and our inner lives altogether differently, with both kindness and rigorous truthfulness. It requires good supervision and therapy of our own where we can be utterly honest about the impact of the work. And at some point, we need to be able to untangle ourselves from our cell phones, computers and pagers, the lists, and meetings, and appointments. Unless we stop once in awhile, stare into space, sing and dance, play—and pray, we will have but the empty fire of our own activity, which will serve nobody. We cannot do this alone, nor should we. We must strive to create somewhere to be safe enough to do this, and to accept the compassion of others and ourselves.
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