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Caregiver Compassion Fatigue: Learning to Subscribe to Better Self-Care

By: Kelly D' Souza


We hardly talk about the hidden expense of the caring profession. The underlying implication of the routine emergency instructions that airlines give about first putting on the oxygen mask ourselves before attending to others around is also applicable to mental health professionals. The regular use of empathy by caregivers, psychologists, social workers, and psychotherapists places them at risk for Secondary Traumatic Stress, despite it being one of the core values of social-work practice (Ehlers et al, 2000). The caring profession is in need of "healing counsellors," rather than "wounded healers."

Professionals providing direct service to clients in need of emotional and mental care are expected to have sufficient coping resources, examine their work, and control their own emotional needs and responsiveness while dealing with clients. Therapists engage in empathetic relationships with their clients through identification and understanding of a client’s emotional experience, which impacts their own emotional experience at both the conscious and the subconscious level. Therapists are at risk of experiencing a state of exhaustion at emotional, mental, and physical levels (Figley, 1995).

Research indicates that mental health professionals often neglect their own health while trying to improve the mental health of their clients (Di Benedetto, 2015). Being empathetic and compassionate extracts a cost, yet the focus of wellness and recovery isn’t a shared one between the caregiver and the recipient of care. It is important to address the issues related to caring and understand the concept of compassion fatigue to create an awareness that increases self-care among health professionals.

It is important for health professionals to incorporate self-care strategies in their personal life. A number of self-care models have been proposed for mental health professionals. The underlying strategies in most of the models integrate positive psychology, spirituality, mindfulness, physical fitness, and health eating. The first step towards self-care among mental health professionals is the acceptance of the stress symptoms related to the work and the willingness to actively practice self-care.

“We know you are busy scheduling appointments with your client, we know you care, we know you’re doing your best. But do not miss your appointment with yourself.”

References

Di Benedetto, M. (2015). Comment on 'The Self-Care of Psychologists and Mental Health Professionals'.

Ehlers, A., & Clark, D. (2000). A cognitive model of posttraumatic stress disorder.

Figley, C. (1995). Compassion fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress disorder in those who treat the traumatized.

Corey, G., Corey, M., & Callanan, P. (1993). Issues and ethics in the helping professions (4th ed.)

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