Many psychotherapists and counsellors, who are starting out on their career path, feel excited about things to come. Whether you are starting a private practice, or working in an agency, helping others is gratifying.
Giving our empathy, showing our care, and helping our clients to understand themselves, is what we love to do.
But, some of us, a few years down the line, start to experience compassion fatigue. This happened to me a few years ago. I loved my work, but I noticed a slow-burning frustration brewing inside. I felt confused, so I ignored it, not knowing that I would end up feeling exhausted, on every level, 6 months later.
I talked to some of my professional colleagues about it and I realized I had compassion fatigue. A few of them were going through the same thing. We had spent many years doing this work, often giving more of ourselves without “refueling our compassion tanks.”
Here were some of the common themes we noticed.
10 Signs of Compassion Fatigue:
- Continuous irritability
- Often complaining about clients
- Breaking boundaries
- Feeling depressed – and in extreme cases, suicidal ideation
- Excessive drinking and over-eating
- Feeling drained after each session
- Apathy during sessions
- Stress and problems in personal life
- Self neglect
Self-care is a key to a long-term career in this field. Many of us are used to looking after others – often starting in childhood.
We are not so good at looking after ourselves.
We need to learn to refuel ourselves and find a balance between giving of ourselves and taking in what nourishes us, on every level.
Here are some ideas.
10 Ways to deal with Compassion Fatigue:
- Take breaks from work – and do what you love to do
- Find a creative outlet separate from work
- Get support – a friend, a mentor, or your own therapist
- Get plenty of sleep and rest
- Look after your body – nutritious food, plenty of water, and exercise
- Get clinical supervision for feedback on clients – share your struggles
- Be honest with yourself about your feelings – don’t ignore them
- Allow yourself to receive help -“Givers” find this difficult
- Join in on activities that make you happy – our own happiness needs attention
- Find gratitude in the small things in life – everyday!
Compassion fatigue is not a failing on our part; it just means we are out of balance and we need to realign ourselves.
If you are a new psychotherapist, you can start implementing some of the solutions and make it part of your weekly routine. For all of us who do this work, and love it, the signs will be there when compassion fatigue sets in.
I hope you listen to yourself.