I went to a workshop titled Compassionate Fatigue a while ago. It was interesting to see how the presenter described and explained the presence of Compassionate Fatigue in life of professionals; particularly, mental health practitioners. It was also interesting to hear solutions she offered to this matter. When I left the workshop I felt happy that organizations are addressing this phenomenon and felt unhappy that suggested solutions sounded very individualistic. Unfortunately, social cultural relational factors that contribute in formation of compassionate fatigue were somewhat left out at this workshop.
As you may have discovered, I view things with the social constructionist lens. This issue is like others is socially constructed and can be reconstructed if we change our traditions of practice and our tradition of relating to one another at workplace.
To me, the experience of compassionate fatigue is linked to a few issues, they are the following:
a) What we listen to: We, professionals, have been taught to listen to ‘problem stories’ for centuries. Traditional approaches in psychotherapy reinforce this way of listening. Listening to problem stories have exhausted professionals’ resources and contributed to the experience of compassionate fatigue. The post- modern approaches invite professionals to become more aware of what they listen to; it is suggested that we listen to ‘stories of resiliency’ as well as ‘problem stories’, it encourages us to practice ‘double listening’. This shift has helped professionals feel energetic and less fatigue in their professional work.
b) Supervision: Supervision is a place when sharing and brainstorming ideas take place; when one’s professional identity is formed. Lack of supervision at workplace has led many professionals to experience isolation and, therefore, compassionate fatigue. Many employers, also, have imposed the role of supervision on managers without supporting and providing adequate trainings. Therefore, managers have been at risk of experiencing compassionate fatigue and burnout. Lack or unfit supervision at workplace have put the lives of many at risk.
c) Competition: Culture of competition at workplace is seen as another source of compassionate fatigue. What makes relationships vulnerable is the presence of competition and the absence of empathy and collaboration. Competition makes the establishment of empathic and supportive environment difficult. Shifting from competition to cooperation requires openness, adaptation and support from everyone at workplace.
d) Suppression of emotions: Professionals are taught not to share their emotions with one another. This learning takes energy and leads to experience of burnout and compassionate fatigue. We need to relearn what we have been taught in the school of psychotherapy. We need to become OK with our emotions and expressing them in a way that enhances our relationships and that increase our self-knowledge. Safety is a key in expressing emotions. Lack of safe environment at workplace has escalated the presence of compassionate fatigue for many professionals.
e) Miscarriage of justices: Many problems that professionals experience at workplace either don’t get expressed or when they are expressed, they get dismissed or suppressed by others. Not getting sufficient support from employers, colleagues and system that we work for has significantly contributed to the experience of compassionate fatigue.
To reduce compassionate fatigue in our life, we need to change our attitudes in a way that opens up space for new ideas and that allow new approaches to co-mingle. We need to become more reflective, mindful and creative when offering support to one another and learn to ask for support when is needed.
Anything else do you think contribute to the formation and maintenance of compassionate fatigue in your life? Please share.
Tahereh Barati, M.A, RMFT