We often hear about “teacher burnout,” but what can be done to keep good, caring, passionate teachers — and mentors — from experiencing this? The importance of self-care was reiterated in a webinar I recently participated in, Take Care of Yourself: Identifying and Responding to Caregiver Compassion Fatigue. The webinar was hosted by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the National Center for Youth in Custody (NCYC), and presented by Christina Clarke, the head of continuing medical education at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina, and ToriShana “TJ” Johnson, training specialist at Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.
While the webinar focused on those working with adjudicated youth, the knowledge and information shared by the presenters can easily be applied to any helping profession, especially in those where youth are involved.
Ms. Clarke described compassion fatigue as —
“A condition resulting specifically from empathizing with people who are experiencing pain and suffering”, and “the emotional residue or strain of exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events.”
She also provided strategies, such as boundary maintenance, practicing self-care, practicing self-management, connecting with others, and seeking professional help, to prevent and recover from the condition.
According to Ms. Clarke, the warning signs of compassion fatigue in staff include the following (see presentation slide below, provided with permission of Ms. Clarke):
- Reduced ability feel sympathy and empathy
- Anger and irritability
- Increased use of alcohol and drugs
- Dread of working with certain [youth]
- Diminished sense of enjoyment of career
- Disruption of world view
- Heightened anxieties or irrational fears
- Intrusive imagery or dissociation
- Hypersensitivity or insensitivity to emotional material
- Difficulty separating work life from personal life
- Impaired ability to make decisions and care for [youth]
- Problems with intimacy and in personal relationships
Do you recognize the signs in yourself and/or co-workers?
Ms. Johnson presented common mistakes among helping professionals, including “over-sympathizing” and “working ‘harder’” (and several others), as well as the “ABC’s for managing compassion fatigue” such as:
- Awareness: Being attuned to your needs, limitations, resources, and emotional regulation. Practice self-acceptance
- Balance: Maintaining balance among priorities (work, play, rest)
- Connection: Maintaining supportive relationships
In addition to offering the ABCs of managing compassion fatigue, Ms. Johnson discussed the link between adverse childhood experiences leading to childhood trauma and adult mental health issues, as well as the increased risk of mental health concerns for those working in juvenile justice.
This is just a quick snapshot meant to inspire your interest to dig deeper! I encourage you to listen to the full webinar, now archived online at https://www.nttac.org/index.cfm?event=trainingCenter.traininginfo&eventID=1105&from=training&dtab=1, to help recognize the signs of compassion fatigue so you can put measures in place to keep it from turning into burn-out.
And if you care to share how you’ve managed fatigue for yourself, or your staff, please use the comments section below.
About the Author: Jana Hallas, M.Ed., is a project coordinator and member of the Check & Connect training team at the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota.
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