Search

THE COST OF CARING: TURNING COMPASSION FATIGUE AND VICARIOUS TRAUMA INTO SELF-COMPASSIONATE GROWTH

When I started mental health counseling in 1993 there was little literature on secondary traumatization of the counselor. I found myself feeling intense physical pain, difficulty breathing, overwhelming sadness, and obsessing on my client’s stories of trauma and pain. My physical and cognitive symptoms where to such an extent that I felt inadequate as a counselor, and did not tell my supervisor what I was going through as I was afraid that she may think I was not fit to work with clients.

Fortunately, over the last 10 years in the field of counseling, compassion fatigue has become ethically mandated for counselors, opening up for counselors to talk about their own cognitive and physical reactions in supervision to their clients’ trauma. This is necessary in order to keep the professional helper healthy to transition a client from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) into Post-Traumatic Growth.    


Regarding elephants, I suspect many of you reading this blog may have experienced overwhelming grief and sadness in viewing videos of the chronic unconscionable anguish elephants are subjected to by humans to quell their selfish desires and make money exploiting these animals for “entertainment”. Crushing the spirit using ropes, fire to frighten, calves taken away from mothers, and more suffering that would last decades. You may have followed one elephant, signed and shared numerous petitions, given money. And yet, year after year, the elephant is still being tortured and forced to work. How can your empathetic heart not feel great sorrow?


On numerous Facebook posts that focus on helping elephants globally, I often see comments from people who are so blinded by pain and anger that they respond using swear words, suggest that they are currently weeping, and feel despair. They feel nobody one listens. Nothing helps. These comments ring true for me as they reveal “compassion fatigue”, which if not addressed will push the advocates to give up trying to help the elephants and eventually feel guilt and shame for doing so.


So, what can we do to stay emotionally and physically healthy whilst staying active in elephant advocacy?


1. Self-Compassion- Research has shown that people who practice self-compassion are healthier mentally. Do not judge yourself harshly. Compassionate and empathetic people are beautiful people. We inspire others to help in crisis, we feel the pain that others feel and in doing so are gift to the world as we listen, empathize, and are in full-presence of witnessing their pain. If we don’t care for ourselves, and put everyone else’s needs before our own, we may end up becoming resentful, fatigued, and ultimately collapse due to anxiety. Prolonged anxiety can lead to auto-immune disorders, cardiac problems, sleep problems, digestive problems, migraines and more.


2. So, how do we care for ourselves? Coping Strategies for self-care. Use the buddy system. Feeling isolated is a precursor to pain and suffering. Find a buddy you can do the A, B, C’s with. A=Affect, meaning talking about emotions, B= Behaviors, talk about how your behavior changes when feeling compassion fatigue, and C= Cognitions, talk about how your thoughts change when fatigued. This would require good listening, and compassion for each other. Start each meeting with a promise that the conversations will not be just venting, but rather a commitment to positive change.


3. So, what are ta