Compassion Fatigue


Emotional and physical wellness for workers and professionals whose job it is to heal, teach or otherwise care for society is often ignored by employers and professional organizations.  I've practiced in my industry for over 30 years and I can tell you, scant attention is paid to the golden goose who lays the golden eggs, that is the professionals who day in and day out serve their students, clients and patients.

It's a toss up who suffers the most in this scenario. But the bottom line is that sick helpers can't do their best work. So patients, clients, marriages as well as family members all suffer the displacement of worker burnout and compassion fatigue. I can tell you a story or two of a burned out nurse who treated me poorly while I was hospitalized or during a procedure and the psychiatrist who takes out his work stress on his employees. Or the callous call center nurse who browbeats her trainees.

All of us have been on that side of the table and experienced the negative effects. When your primary doctor spends five minutes with you and rushes the interaction so much they truly don't get a sense of you or even judge you (put you in a diagnostic box), and you don't get to deeply discuss what your concerns are, what's the result? Missed opportunity for supportive counseling and proper diagnosis? Perhaps. Or maybe just a missed diagnosis?  Yikes!

Or, how about when your therapist or counselor rushes you out the door at minute 45 just when it is most important for you to share something vital that only came out of your discussion because your therapist was truly taking his or her time with you and really put their care into the session? That's the result.

In the health care marketplace, for example, there are dozens of healers taking care of us.  There are physicians, nurses in hospitals, physical therapists, massage therapists and many more.  In my years working in a variety of settings, for example, perhaps the most 'put upon' nurse I've seen is the nurse working in the inpatient psych hospitals!.   Who loses?  Patients, most of all.  How?  The best nurses leave the field. When a psych unit is understaffed, it can become gravely dangerous.  Look it up: how many patients have died on inpatient psych units because there wasn't enough staff to observe a suicidal or homicidal client and another patient was murdered. It happens more than you think.

I was trained as a social worker over 30 years ago.  During those years I've practiced on my own and as part of organizations large and small, public/governmental and private.  I have to sadly say that many mental health practice environments are cruel, both for clients and for it's employees.

Our leadership organizations are not much better. As a social worker I have experienced the lack of support in my profession for the types of environmental supports we need to practice to the best of our abilities over time. Our professional organizations are more concerned it seems with looking good as they serve the needy, but they don't spend enough time serving those who serve those sick and needy!

And, if you are even lucky enough to have a union, good luck. It's probably pretty ineffective.

Doctors, dentists and nurses are stressed unbelievably so in today's health care system. Those trained 'the old way', meaning doctors now, lament the better hours the trainees coming up are getting. I say: it's about time! Stop talking badly about them and instead turn your frustration towards the true culprits: management and the hospital administrators and hospital owners who should make helping you stay your healthiest so you can do your best on the job!  It's not just your fault when your family life suffers because of the demands your hospital likely places on you.  

Teachers are known to be at very high risk of burnout as well.

And if you burnout?  No one notices or cares or likely - if they do - they tend to blame the worker instead of the sick environment and conditions we are working under.  Yes, one large HMO I know had it's workers go out on strike due to concerns like 'too large patient loads'. They won a concession, but now, when patients go there for care, they find they receive one session and no offer for a follow up.  People on medications are refilled often without even being seen.

Of course, practicalities are at issue. Despite all of what I've just said, the United States is still one of the most inefficient spenders of medical care in the world. And still, we don't pay enough of our caregivers and our healers enough. A few at the top make the most.  Usually those who don't do the direct care.  How ironic and crazy is that?

But it's not just money, although that is a big problem. We need to infuse our care systems with more resources. THE BOTTOM LINE IS SUCH:  If we don't do something, patients suffer.  Already, there are many areas in America where the wait lists to see a doctor or therapist are months long.  10 years from now, unless we improve working conditions enough to attract the best and brightest to these fields, we will be in big trouble!

Healers burnout and either hurt other healers by verbal abuse or hurt patients. Our best healers and teachers often leave their field, because they burned out.

My work as a social work professional is coming down to it's last years. I've loved what I do and I've had to take big risks to practice in a way that keeps me providing the best help I can. Many aren't as courageous or able as me however, to take the risks involved. in this final 10-15 years or so of my career, I hope to be a big part of addressing some of the concerns I've noted above.

I specialize in counseling health care professionals and teaching professionals who are sick and tired of working in the sick system and are ready to heal themselves, and challenge for the changes that need to happen ASAP.

Is that you?  If you are burning out or you are burned out and you don't know where else to turn, call me 410-967-3848 and we'll figure out how to get you unstuck!