Many doctors, therapists, and healers have compassion fatigue but don’t even realize it. If left untreated, this pervasive condition can lead to negative health outcomes for both clinicians and their patients. Here’s what health care providers need to know about compassion fatigue and its impact on healing and wellness.
What Is Compassion Fatigue?
Physicians, on average, see between 11 and 20 patients a day—many of whom are dealing with a severe injury or chronic illness. Therapists also work with individuals who have experienced or are currently experiencing trauma.
This exposure to others’ suffering can put an emotional strain on clinicians. As a result, they may isolate themselves or turn to other destructive behaviors such as substance abuse. Health care providers can also develop depression, notice a change in their worldview, and lose the ability to empathize with their patients. This state is known as compassion fatigue.
How Does It Differ From Clinician Burnout?
Many believe compassion fatigue is synonymous with clinician burnout. While the two can co-exist and may similarly harm healing and wellness, they are fundamentally different.
As mentioned before, compassion fatigue comes from the emotional strain of working with those who have experienced traumatic events. It is often called “vicarious traumatization” and has a rapid onset. Clinician burnout, on the other hand, is a long-term stress reaction related to heavy workloads, demanding schedules, and other institutional stressors. It too can be caused by emotional hardships, though these obstacles are not considered “traumatic.” Fortunately, though, both compassion fatigue and clinician burnout are treatable.
How Is Compassion Fatigue Treated?
To combat compassion fatigue, the health care industry must address the issue on both a personal and organizational level. Regarding the former, clinicians should prioritize self-care. Exercise and meditation, for example, are excellent ways to recharge both body and mind after a grueling shift. Medical professionals should also carefully and honestly access their current lifestyle. Correcting any unhealthy coping mechanisms—such as de-stressing with food or alcohol—can reduce emotional strain.
On an organizational level, administrators should spread awareness of compassion fatigue. They should develop a supportive workplace that encourages debriefing and mental health days. Administrators can also promote healing and wellness by recommending employees attend peer support groups or holistic workshops. Both teach valuable coping skills that alleviate compassion fatigue.
Metro Collaborative™ is committed to decreasing the national rates of both compassion fatigue and clinician burnout. The New York City-based organization regularly organizes holistic workshops and Caribbean retreats, both designed to promote healing and wellness. They also host peer-to-peer dinners to help clinicians build their referral network. Visit them online or call (609) 876-9163 to learn about their upcoming events.