Today’s VETgirl online veterinary CE guest blogger is Julie Squires,** Certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist & Educator and founder of Rekindle LLC. In this four-part series, she discusses some important – but tough – topics in veterinary medicine.
The Trajectory of Compassion Fatigue
Compassion fatigue is like an abscess.
It builds slowly, so slowly you don’t even notice it at first and then it becomes extremely painful and eventually explodes. The good news is, you can intervene at any point. You don’t (and shouldn’t) wait until it (you) explodes.
But if we haven’t been trained in what compassion fatigue even is, then how are we supposed to recognize it?
Let’s start at the beginning, compassion fatigue is a deep erosion of our compassion, of our ability to tolerate strong emotions and experiences. It develops over time and is a trajectory.
The following stage model is based on the work of Drs. Eric Gentry and Anna Baranowsky. I imagine you will recognize aspects of yourself in some of the stages.
Stage 1. The Zealot Phase
-We are enthusiastic and excited
-We put in extra hours and stay late
-We spend time hand-holding clients
-Willing to take on extra work
-I’ll do it!
Stage 2. The Irritability Phase
-We start taking short-cuts
-We begin to avoid clients
-Humor can sometimes be a chore
-We daydream or are distracted when clients are talking to us
-Mistakes and oversights occur
-Avoidance of friends and coworkers
-We make concerted efforts to avoid conversation
Stage 3. The Withdrawal Phase
-Clients become irritants
-Our enthusiasm is gone
-Complaints may be made at work or in our personal life
-Exhaustion has become our normal state
-We don’t want to talk about work nor admit our profession
-Neglect family, friends, coworkers and self
Stage 4. Zombie Phase
-We are going through the motions
-We are disconnected from our emotions
-We have pulled away from family, friends and coworkers
-We have lost compassion for our patients and clients
-We are lost and feel hopeless
Stage 5. Pathology
-In a perpetual state of overwhelm
-Pervasive intrusion of symptoms
Stage 5. Renewal
Be aware that we can jump off this no-win train at any point and seek help and put protective and rejuvenating practices into play. It’s vital however that we have the self-awareness to notice early on when things are starting to become unhinged.
When compassion fatigue reaches the Zombie Phase, the person is often too far gone to be able to seek the support the workplace might be offering. We have seen this in community mental health. The agency will adopt a “care for the caregiver” protocol but the most in-need therapists are too exhausted and drained to attend the meetings or events.
Compassion fatigue is preventable and it is here is where we should be putting forth a tremendous amount of effort.
I long for the day when all graduating students will have had training in managing the emotional and psychological components of veterinary work.
I dream of every veterinary technician entering into practice being equipped with a arsenal of ways to self-protect.
And I pine for veterinary hospitals to recognize that their professional’s wellness is as much a part of their success as client satisfaction. Without it, there is no client satisfaction. Of that I am sure.
** Julie Squires is the owner of Rekindle LLC, a compassion fatigue solutions company. After 20 years in the veterinary field she could no longer tolerate what she was seeing — people suffering from the effects of the work. As a student of both suffering and personal development she decided to pursue what will become her life’s work, teaching others what she has learned to relieve her own suffering through seminars, keynotes and workshops. Julie studied to become a Certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist and Educator and combined that with being a Certified Health & Wellness Coach and Corporate Wellness Coach to help other animal workers cope and manage the physical , emotional and psychological effects associated with “the cost of caring” (Figley). You can visit her website @ www.rekindlesolutions.com or contact her by email: firstname.lastname@example.org