The Future of Compassion Fatigue Education: Working Partnerships with Mental Health Professionals

*Reprinted with Permission

The concept of compassion fatigue (CF) has received increased attention in the animal care and welfare professions in recent years. This is a positive trend. Today, thanks to courses such as IAABC’s Animal Behavior Consulting: Principles & Practice, which contains a full module on compassion fatigue, people who work with animals are better able to access resources informing them that they are not alone in feeling depleted or altered by their work as caregivers for people and pets who are stressed, traumatized, sick, and in need of compassionate services.

However, as interest in compassion fatigue continues to grow, it’s important to be mindful of the quality of the resources being created to meet the increasing demand for compassion fatigue education. Just like dog training, compassion fatigue education is an unregulated industry. Anyone can advertise themselves as a compassion fatigue educator; there are no regulations or standardized training programs for this field. A variety of organizations do offer certificates programs for individuals who wish to become compassion fatigue educators. However, this process varies widely from one certifying organization to another, with some training programs being far more in-depth than others.

These certificates can be a good starting point for anyone interested in deepening their understanding of compassion fatigue, particularly management and leadership who wish to become better informed in order to support their staff and volunteers. But for those who intend to pursue a part- or full-time career in the compassion fatigue education field, the certification process alone will likely not be in-depth enough training to adequately build competency in safely engaging other people in this highly emotional, complex work.

Like their counterparts in professional dog training, professional compassion fatigue educators should demonstrate a commitment to ongoing education, support from other professionals, and clearly communicated boundaries that recognize the limitations of their skills and role.

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The Future of Compassion Fatigue Education: Working Partnerships with Mental Health Professionals

New Curricula Build Resilience in Young Medical Professionals

Maclean’s Magazine recently published an article stating that approximately 29% of young doctors experience symptoms of depression or receive a clinical diagnosis. Why? Part of the problem lies in the immense competition young doctors face to obtain jobs. The culture of residency, where young physicians are often required to work excessive hours to stay competitive, is cited as a major source of mental health deterioration. Perhaps most obvious are the stresses associated with making difficult, life-and-death decisions with little to no experience.

Compounded, these issues are causing a mental health crisis among young health-care providers across Canada, and particularly medical students. Lack of sleep, stress and poor self-care contribute to diminishing mental health. Zane Schwartz writes that there is hope: “Young doctors across Canada are trying to change [the] statistics, encouraging struggling peers to seek support and building programs that make it easier for them to take care of themselves…the new curriculum for the University of Toronto, rolling out this fall, which will include several weeks of resiliency training.” Resiliency training is at the forefront of efforts seeking to help future medical professionals cope with the stresses of their work. At UoT, Shayna Kulman-Lipsey, Manager of Counselling has launched a number of initiatives aimed at breaking the stigma attached to seeking help. She argues that the ability to gain resiliency is dependent, in part, on reaching out to peers for support, which can be difficult in an environment that stigmatizes asking for help as a sign of weakness. If medical students develop the skills to maintain resiliency earlier in their careers, they will be better equipped to take on high-stress workplaces and maintain high levels of patient care later.

In the United States, a similar need has been identified by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). This month, the AAP released a special article in Pediatrics, the Official Journal of the AAP titled “The AAP Resilience in the Face of Grief and Loss Curriculum” authored by a group of physicians from across the United States. According to the publication, The AAP Section on Medical Students, Residents and Fellowship Trainees identified a need to address the management of grief and loss that health care professionals experience throughout their careers. The development of this new curriculum was endorsed and sponsored by the  AAP Section on Hospice and Palliative Medicine.

A large portion of the new AAP curriculum focuses on the physician-patient and physician-family relationship, with modules designed to help pediatric health-care professionals learn to communicate effectively with children and their parents. The last section of the curriculum, Part D: Introduction to Personal Well-Being, has been developed specifically to address physician well-being. Like the folks at UoT, the authors here argue that teaching medical students personal strategies to cope with stressful events in the workplace will promote long-term well-being and resiliency as their careers progress. The new curriculum recommends a Wellness Learning Plan, that “might be incorporated at the beginning of medical school and reviewed with the student’s advisor or mentor quarterly.” While the AAP publication is specific to the experiences of grief and loss, the message is more broad: resiliency is critical in maintaining personal well-being in high-stress, trauma-exposed workplaces. Educating students early in their careers with these types of curricula may offer longer-term prevention of burnout, fatigue and secondary traumatic stress.

To read more about programs for medical students at the University of Toronto, please visit:  http://www.md.utoronto.ca/Annual_Report/learner-experience/resilience

To learn more about the new “AAP Resilience in the Face of Grief and Loss Curriculum”, please visit: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2016/10/06/peds.2016-0791.full.pdf

Maclean’s article: http://www.macleans.ca/education/new-curriculum-addresses-mental-health-for-young-doctors/