This exercise was inspired by Saakvitne and Pearlman’s book Transforming the Pain

Make sure you have some undisturbed time to work through the five following questions:

1) Where do the stories go?

What do you do at the end of a work day to put difficult client stories away before you go home?

2) Were you trained for this?

Did your training offer you any education on self-care, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma or burnout? If it did, how up to date are you on those strategies? If it didn’t, how much do you know about these concepts?

3) What are your particular vulnerabilities?

There are two things we know for sure about the field of helping: one, that a large percentage of helpers have experienced primary trauma at some point in their past, which may have led them to being attracted to the field in the first place; two, that personality types who are attracted to the field of helping are more likely to be highly attuned and to feel empathy towards others which makes them good at their job and also more vulnerable to developing CF, VT and Burnout.

What are your vulnerabilities?

4) How do you protect yourself while doing this very challenging work?

5) On a blank sheet of paper, write out the story of your career as a helper

What have been the biggest challenges in your current job? Think broadly – client challenges, organizational challenges, interpersonal, societal, other? Thinking more specifically about your current job – what have been or are the biggest challenges – your work schedule, colleagues, office layout etc.

How did you come to realize that your work was having a significant impact on you and on your life?

Once you have written your story, take some time to review what you have written, and look for themes and patterns. What aspects of your CF/VT have to do with the nature of your work? What aspects have to do with your own history/family of origin? Can you see how the nature of your place of work may have impacted on your levels of CF and VT? Can you see how your own history/family of origin may have contributed to your levels of CF and VT?

If you feel comfortable doing so, consider discussing this with a colleague, friend or counsellor.

(This is an excerpt from The Compassion Fatigue Workbook © Françoise Mathieu 2009)