Most people are familiar with the term “posttraumatic stress disorder” (PTSD), a syndrome experienced by individuals who have been traumatized by one or more life experiences. But few are aware of a similar phenomenon experienced by those working with others who have been traumatized.
No matter your profession, ongoing awareness and involvement in the distress and tragedy of others can take a tremendous emotional and psychological toll and result in a phenomenon that is known as compassion fatigue (CF). Compassion fatigue is considered a secondary traumatic stress disorder resulting from caring for people who are victims of trauma rather than from being the actual victim; in other words, it’s a secondhand traumatization. Many experts believe that individuals who are drawn to care for others are very likely to experience CF. In fact, experts note that “other-directed” individuals also are less likely to have strong self-care behaviors—a factor that puts caregivers at risk for CF.
Compassion fatigue is the negative aspect of work that teachers, social workers, school nurses and others working with victims of trauma experience, and it includes symptoms reflective of both burnout and traumatic stress. The disorder can take a significant toll; but once recognized, many steps can be taken to address and improve the emotional and physical status of the caregiver. More important, practicing self-care strategies, and creating a healthier work environment, can prevent the negative aspects of the important work you do.