Compassion Fatigue

By Craig S. Judd, MA, LLP and Kathlene B. LaCour, MA, LLP

I heard this phrase a couple of months ago. It was in one of those seminar flyers that fill your mailbox. “Compassion Fatigue” caught my eye. I had to chuckle to myself…what is it? Basically, the conference was about “burn out” in the helping professions (mental health, nursing, medical, and spiritual) and this includes those working in medical related call centers.

Are you tired of hearing the same old stories? Have you lost your patience with a caller, friend, or family member? Are you spent because you have been working for too long, taking calls back to back, putting pressure on yourself to stay alert and focused until you have nothing left! Do you want to scream, “Stop calling me!” Do you fear that you are going to “lose it.” Maybe you do on occasions; then you feel guilty about being short tempered with your callers and your colleagues.

If you are feeling this way, maybe it’s time for some self-compassion. How are you taking care of yourself? We all have feelings, we all need support, and we all need breaks. We all respond to these things as human beings.

Have compassion for yourself. This is where it starts. If it means taking a day to go to a seminar to remind yourself that you are not alone, that you are important, that you are making a difference, and you can ask for what you need, then do it! Often times I have found myself in this place when I have been doing some particular duty for too long without a change. If you can make a change, this might help – even if it’s small, such as flex hours or swapping duties with someone else that would like some variety in their job.

Take a break and do the things you might tell your callers to do for themselves. Go on vacation or take a mental health day; you will be happier and so will the callers and colleagues you are working with. Find out more about yourself. Begin to monitor your stress level and keep a journal of what is happening prior to these feelings of being spent. Become aware what your limits are. It is imperative that you take care of yourself – no one will do it for you; it’s your responsibility. Admitting that you have needs is not a personal or professional weakness.

If you have “lost it” with a caller or colleague, be humble and apologize for your behavior, send a card, ask the person to lunch, offer a treat, send an email, or just say, “I’m sorry.” Making repairs for emotional outbursts will go a long way to mending relationships, improving your work environment, and creating peace of mind for yourself. Most people are able to see that we are all human and are willing to forgive us when we are sincerely regretful. Work at making changes in the way you care for yourself so that it does not happen again.

Sometimes, we are like diabetic patients who know that they need to eat in healthier ways, but they chose not to and compromise their health. It is easy to become frustrated with these patients and try to impress upon them how important it is to take care of their physical health. Ultimately, however, it is the responsibility of the patient to make these changes. As a helping professional, many of us know what we need to do, too. We know that we need to take care of ourselves. We have heard it before, “You can only help people if you are healthy.” If you are overwhelmed and stressed, it is hard to be emotionally and physically available for others.

It is you that will make you a priority. You are not supernurse; you are a human being who needs nourishment and rest. You are the one you have been waiting for, so “just do it!”

Kathlene LaCour and Craig Judd provide training and consultation services to medical and mental health call centers. They may be reached at 269-929-1292.

[From the June/July 2006 issue of AnswerStat magazine]