If you would like more resources after reading this article, please have a look at our online training resources and books.
In a previous post (links here) we discussed some of the warning signs of VT/STS and Compassion Fatigue. We are often asked “what can I do personally and professionally to reduce the negative stress-related effects of my work?” We have many resources to recommend.
First, please have a look at the extensive list of TEND resources further down in the post, or also the wealth of articles we have posted in our resources section from other authors who are specialists in the field. If you are struggling with significant frustration with your workplace and feel that you do not have much control over the system or your job, and don’t feel that you can move to a better employment situation, please start by reading this article: Beyond Kale and Pedicures
Where to start?
For starters, hopefully you will have read through our other posts to assist you in identifying the main challenges that you are facing: Is it related to too much exposure to difficult stories or a lack of referral resources? Is it work overload or an unsupportive supervisor/toxic team? Are you struggling with difficult personal circumstances that are affecting your ability to manage your stress? Do you feel overwhelmed with your complex case load and feel that you lack training in managing the most difficult and challenging situations? The answers will likely be as varied as there are professions and individuals reading these lines. So where can we start?
I will be honest, we often disappoint people who come to us for sound bites and “quick fixes” to these complex issues because, well, the solutions are complicated, just like the work that we do is multi-faceted and challenging. But here are some places to start:
Recent research in the field of STS and Compassion fatigue suggests that there are particular vulnerability factors that can increase your likelihood of being negatively impacted by the work. Take a look at this Venn Diagram
Which of these factors are true for you?
Prior Trauma history/vulnerability factors
Do you have your own history of trauma? Are you currently struggling with a difficult family/personal circumstance? Do you have a history of mental illness or addiction that is currently re-emerging? All of these factors can contribute to increased vulnerability when doing high-stress, trauma-exposed work
Traumatic grief/loss in the workplace
Have you experienced losses at work? The death(s) of clients or patients, someone that you worked with who disappeared and never returned, providing you with no closure? A beloved colleague who died unexpectedly or retired or was laid off? The loss of a well-respected supportive supervisor or mentor? Significant changes to your workplace?
Are you exposed to dangerous situations in your work? Have you ever been threatened, assaulted physically or verbally on the job? Is your work high-risk?
Are you regularly exposed to indirect trauma at work? Hearing/viewing difficult case files, traumatic images and stories?
Have you experienced a shift in your ability to feel empathy for individuals you work with and/or colleagues or loved ones? Some situations can be very depleting – chronically desperate clients who don’t follow through on your recommendations and keep coming back in distress, a very large homogenous case load where all of the stories start sounding the same, years of exposure to traumatic stories that no longer generate any reaction in you.
Many professionals describe experiencing moral distress around failures of the system: rules, laws and policies that you disagree with but are still mandated to comply with and that you feel are causing further harm, lack of referral resources and other injustices. All of these can lead to a pervasive feeling of anger and contribute to burnout and workplace toxicity and a decrease in the quality of care provided.
Burnout can result from a negative overall workplace experience: your hours, your salary, your workload, the health of your work climate, rewards and recognition, who you immediately report to, the quality of your work relationships with colleagues and a perception of fairness and adequate support to do your job in the best way possible. A negative combination of these factors can lead to burnout.
First, take a look at which elements of the Venn Diagram are most salient for you and begin by addressing those that feel most manageable. As the saying goes “Dig where the ground is soft”. Seek support, formally with a good mental health practitioner or a coach, informally with colleagues and friends, look at ways to reduce trauma exposure in your personal/leisure time. Learn some stress-reduction techniques; get more training in trauma-informed practices which can be highly protective in retaining compassion when working with difficult cases and finally, please be open to the possibility of changing jobs if things are just too challenging where you are now. As Cheryl Richardson says in her book “Take time for your life” (1999) “Do not confuse difficult choices with no choice.” There is too much at stake to ignore compassion fatigue and secondary trauma.
WANT MORE? Here are some TEND resources to explore:
Live Training – bring one of our TEND associates to your organization for specialized training in resilience, compassion fatigue, etc.
Books – we carry 3 wonderful books (and e-books of each) written by our wonderful co-executives Françoise Mathieu and Dr.Patricia Fisher
Building Resilient Teams – a workbook designed as a practical, realistic and effective approach to building team resiliency and cohesion through a sequence of safe and respectful guided discussions.
Resilience Balance and Meaning Workbook – designed to provide you with practical help in addressing the effects of workplace stress, burnout and trauma. You will see that it is designed as a highly interactive tool and you are encouraged to make the book your own by responding to the frequent questions, reflections and self-assessments.
The Compassion Fatigue Workbook – a lifeline for any helping professional facing the physical and emotional exhaustion that can shadow work in the helping professions
Online Courses – TEND also offers online courses at a very affordable price, we do bulk discounts as well for larger groups. These courses are led by Dr.Patricia Fisher and Françoise Mathieu
Organizational Health in Trauma-Exposed Environments: Essentials – an intensive online course designed for managers and supervisors of teams working in high stress, trauma-exposed environments such as healthcare, the criminal justice sector, social and human services, emergency response, armed forces, education, child welfare, community mental health, non-profit organizations and related services
Compassion Fatigue 101 Online Course -Three-part webinar series that aims to help participants identify compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and burnout, and participants will develop self-care strategies.
Resilience in Trauma-Exposed Work – This workshop will provide a solid framework to understand the mechanisms of stress and resilience within trauma-exposed environments, and will introduce practical, best-practices approaches to increasing resilience and enhancing individual wellness and organizational health.
Other Suggested Resources:
Compassion Fatigue/Vicarious Trauma/STS:
The Compassion Fatigue Workbook by Françoise Mathieu
Trauma Stewardship by Laura Van Dernoot Lipsky
Building Resilient Teams by Dr. Patricia Fisher, R.Psych., L.Psych.
Is work Killing You? A Doctor’s Prescription for Treating Workplace Stress by David Posen
Resilience, Balance & Meaning Workbook by Dr. Patricia Fisher, R.Psych., L.Psych.
Graham, L. (2013) Bouncing back: rewiring your brain for maximum happiness. New World Library.
Tools for Managing Trauma:
Nakazawa, D.J. (2015) Childhood Disrupted: How your Biography Becomes your Biology. Atria.
Van Der Kolk, B. (2014) The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healingof Trauma. Penguin Books.
Scaer, R. (2014) The Body Bears the Burden: Trauma, Dissociation and Disease. Routledge.
Maté, G. (2003) When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress/Disease Connection. Wiley & Sons.
Richardson, C. (1999) Take Time for Your Life: a 7 Step Program for Creating the Lifeyou Want. Broadway books.
Mindfulness & Self–compassion websites