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Burnout and Compassion Fatigue (Excerpt from book 'Caregiving with Strength')


Burnout and Compassion Fatigue

Taking care of family caregivers and the professionals who service them includes assessing burnout and compassion fatigue.

Acknowledging : Who can be burning out? Who can be experiencing compassion fatigue? Is it the family caregiver with overwhelming issues, waiting to move a chronically ill spouse into long-term-care? Or is it the professional caregiver who is no longer able to be empathic? They both can!

Although there are similarities between burnout and compassion fatigue, a distinction can be made assessing the two conditions.

Compassion fatigue occurs due to prolonged continuous exposure assisting individuals who are chronically ill or suffering through severe circumstances. Unlike compassion fatigue, a person does not necessarily have to be providing support or in a caring role to burn out.

Burnout is experienced when there are personal or working conditions that create tension, fatigue, and so on. Working conditions may include conflict with colleagues, downsizing, and heavy workload. Personal conditions may include financial strain and lack of support from family members. Professionals may be playing a double role, also attending to a sick family member. For caregivers of family members with cognitive issues, there may be behaviors such as wandering to contend with, adding to their daily strain.

For family and professional caregivers, loss of compassion, empathy, and motivation can be the result of poor working conditions and the continuous exposure to a chronic illness. They may be working under poor conditions that cause them to burn out while at the same time experiencing compassion fatigue due to the nature of their work as a helper. Perhaps that is why the two terms are often used interchangeably.

Acknowledging the situational losses involved allows for individuals to assist themselves in preventing symptoms of compassion fatigue or burnout from getting worse.

In her hospice conference presentation, Susan Hedlund, LSW cited burnout as

a progressive loss of idealism, energy, and purpose experienced by people in the helping professions as a result of the conditions of their work.

Left unattended, the situational losses can lead to other losses such as loss of judgment, decision making, and the meaning of life. For care providers, these situational losses collectively create a loss of calm well-being that can play out through adverse behaviors such as increased agitation towards patients, clients, and care recipients, interpersonal conflict and social withdrawal.

Caregiving as family members or professionals carries with it demands that can take an emotional, cognitive, physical, and spiritual toll. Self-assessment , acknowledging potential signs of emerging compassion fatigue and burnout can assist, as preventative before symptoms get worse.

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