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COMPASSION FATIGUE, BURNOUT, AND COMPASSION SATISFACTION

Updated: Sep 2, 2018

As elephant advocates, we’ve witnessed never ending traumas inflicted on elephants, one of the gentlest and most intelligent of all mammals on earth.  Many of us are not only aware of the suffering, but also embody their pain. We want to alleviate their suffering instantaneously but feel helpless, especially if they are in a far off land. You may feel engulfed by the suffering of other beings because you are a compassionate person and may be an empath.

Given the onslaught of negative news on the social and television news media, our own suffering can become so overwhelming that sometimes we can become completely paralyzed and helpless. This could ultimately lead to conditions such as Compassion Fatigue (CF) and Burnout (BO).


Symptoms of CF in elephant advocates are depression, feeling anxious, negative spontaneous thoughts of elephant trauma, feeling numb, and avoiding things you usually find pleasurable. With CF you will have a reduced ability to feel the pain of the suffering or you may not be able to bear the suffering the elephants endure. Higher levels of CF may markedly reduce the confidence of volunteers and donors.


With BO, symptoms arise from long-term involvement in emotionally trying situations. When we experience BO, we are physically, emotionally, and mentally spent. Also, with BO, it is not related to traumatic exposure. BO is also different from CF in that it occurs slowly over time and is related to physical exhaustion.


Compassion Satisfaction (CS) is related to feeling positive experiences in helping the voiceless elephants. CS involves feel-good activities to help elephants. Advocates feel that they can really make a difference in their work. Those who experience CS are more balanced to vicarious or visceral trauma (felt deeply in physical body). Higher levels of CS promote focus on the bigger picture and more retainability in advocacy. This study showed no relationship to CS and CF. However, there is a correlation to CS and BO; So ensuring advocates and donors have CS is vital.


I used three assessments to measure my outcomes. The first scientific assessment of survey questions measured CF, BO, and CS. Examples of questions:


“My elephant advocacy work makes me satisfied.”

“I’m proud of what I can do to advocate for elephants”.

“As a result of my elephant advocacy, I have intrusive, frightening thoughts”. 


The second assessment investigated how the advocacy activity overload (how many activities one does to advocate for elephants) may increase the likelihood of compassion fatigue, burnout, and satisfaction. I also measured frequency of these same activities. For instance, I measured how often an advocate may sign petitions; travel to sanctuaries, read or write elephant blogs, etc.   

  

The last assessment I implemented was a numerical code system of the effort it takes to advocate for elephants. For instance, if an advocate only signs one petition a year they would get one point, but if someone signed over 20 petitions a year they would get 2 points. People in the 5 range, for example, would organize one fundraiser, people who organized 3 or more fundraisers would get a 6.  People in the 9 or ten point range would be advocates with boots on the ground such as anti-poaching troops, those who run elephant sanctuaries or rescue abandoned or injured elephants.