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Combating Compassion Fatigue

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Compassion fatigue refers to unique stressors which affect ministers, nurses or even psychotherapists in their caregiving professions (Joinson, 1992). According to Joinson (1992), compassion fatigue is an expanded burnout which includes workers’ emotional and physical needs and also the environmental stressors which negatively affect nurse caregivers in the workplace. These unique problems make nurses become angry, tired, ineffective, depressed, detached and apathetic. The emotional and physical needs include fear, discomfort, anxiety and pain. Spiritual, cognitive, behavioral, emotional and physical forms are the five major concepts of compassion fatigue and their warning signs are pointed out below. Cognitive concept has preoccupation with trauma, thoughts of harming self or others, disorientation, rigidity and decrease in self-esteem. Spiritual concept implies that an individual questions the meaning of life, becomes hopeless, and has a decrease in self-appraisal, loses faith, becomes skeptic or angry with God. Nightmares startle responses, impatience, moody and changes in appetite characterize the signs of behavioral concept of compassion fatigue while anger and irritability, helplessness, numbness, sadness, fear and powerlessness are signs for an emotional concept. Finally under physical concept one experiences rapid breathing, strong dizziness, pains, sweating, impairment in the immune system and frequent shocks.

Compassion fatigue and burnout used interchangeably; include the following symptoms like internal implications for the worker, causal onset, duration of onset following exposure, healing time and presentation help to differentiate them. Since compassion fatigue occurs on a continuum, it can start with definite acuity and can also be cumulative and gradual. It may occur after exposure to only one incident. On the other hand, burnout develops gradually. The time taken to heal from burnout is further pronounced than in compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue yields negative changes in workers in their cognitive schemas, their views and the surrounding world and develops feelings of hopelessness and helplessness to the activities they are supposed to do. In general, compassion fatigue is believed to be internally directed which has effects on the workers’ internal scope, their beliefs and the world as well as the capability to make experiences meaningful while burnout is externally directed on what affects the outer environment of the worker. The upsetting result of compassion fatigue leads to similar symptoms of the client without a traumatic experience or prior idenification with the client (Abbott, 2009).

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Compassion fatigue can be caused by the total time spent while engaging with the patients suffering from trauma. Extended connection with a patient experiencing trauma increases the levels of compassion fatigue in caregivers. Extra emotionally work creates high levels of compassion fatigue, which is  compounded as a result of time spent appealing with the patient. The negative contagion effect distracts the emotional response which may accrue to negative emotions to the client. Therefore the contagion of the negative effect can with no trouble lead to compassion fatigue to workers who attend patients experiencing trauma. It is also argued that shifting cultural norms which are based on the personal characteristics can lead to compassion fatigue since they contribute complexity and difficulties in work. Although social workers deliver more direct services in mental health they gradually find themselves more at danger for compassion fatigue. This clearly suggests that social workers frequently experience working conditions that contain bigger caseloads with insufficient resources accessible to themselves and clients. It is widely agreed that staying with a client in a great amount of ache brings about a black hole for energy which is a reason of compassion fatigue. It will be realized that compassion fatigue accumulates when one accompanies a patient experiencing trauma or emotional pain. Human-induced trauma is harder to process and may lead to greater incidences of compassion fatigue than natural-trauma induced by disasters and unforeseen events. Human-induced traumas involve human cruelty aspect which makes the worker have a higher risk level of compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue can occur if people enter the helping professions. These individuals have a strong identification with traumatized suffering or helpless people because of their own beliefs to care for others. This makes them lack effective self-care practices and they will automatically experience compassion fatigue before the onset of their work. Personal characteristics of workers are exposed to higher risks of compassion fatigue. The emotional reactions of the workers to their patients are greatly correlated to their mind-set of personal accomplishment. When personal accomplishment is lessened then workers become increasingly engaged in shielding their egos through dehumanizing their clients in ways which may include avoiding interaction with clients and negatively speaking about them. This in turn leads to compassion fatigue. Another cause of compassion fatigue may include lack of personal boundaries where workers become overextended and have no limits to jobs, unresolved past trauma andd lack of self-awareness which inhibits growth (Creedon, 2012). Creedon also specifies that compassion fatigue can be caused by giving care to clients with stress and inability of the workers to communicate their requirements.

Caregivers should have emotional needssince a lot of attention and energy are focused on the patient and one may start to feel invisible. In their worry for the patient, nurses, family members, doctors and friends may fail to notice how hard the condition is for the caregiver.  Therefore, the caregiver must not get lost in caring the patient. It is required that the caregiver should pay attention to his feelings such as guilt depression, anxiety, frustration, sadness and grief. Emotional needs require the caregiver spare time for himself.Every caregiver needs some time to relax and relieve his stress in order to restore the emotional energy.Physical needs arise from the fact that caregiving seriously affects health of the caregiver which can be manifested in poor eating habits, lack of sleep, illness and fatigue. Physical needs require that the caregiver should maintain his health through relaxation, diet, exercise and combatting fatigue. Exercising helps ease depression as well as mental and physical tension. Hence exercising helps the caregiver to take a break from work. Good sleep will help the caregiver to restore his body and improve overall health condition.Spiritual needs develop when the caregiver is dealing with the illness. Spiritual issues arise both to the patient’s life as well as tothat of thecaregiver (Fitchett, 1993).To overcome these, spiritual needs help thecaregiver tobe more positive and keep faith.

The caregiver can deal with spiritual needs through speaking to any religious leader, praying, having faith in what he believes, learning from the situations to become strong, identifying his position as a caregiver and regularly attend church services. The above strategies will help the caregiver solve spiritual problems that may occur when handling witnh the patients. In order to deal with the physical needs the caregiver can take three balanced meals in a day, avoid drinking a lot of caffeine and alcohol, should rest when he gets tired, ask a friend to assist, ensure he exercises daily and listens to favorite music that will make him feel relaxed. Finally, the caregiver can deal with emotional needs by ensuring that he does not feel guilty about being absent from duty, having a list of people who can take of the patient in his absence, learning to enjoy life. The caregiver should also learn to accept emotions, share feelings with the patient and join nearby support groups for caregivers (Knutson, 2007). 

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