The group initially learnt about the interchangeable terms and symptoms of compassion fatigue, secondary trauma, vicarious trauma and burn out; and particularly how they affect counsellors. The speaker said that she wanted the
session to be a discussion and to raise awareness as this doesn’t get talked about enough. It can all happen to us all at any time after all.
Compassion Fatigue refers to the emotional and physical exhaustion of a caregiver over time. It was important to note that this is a natural process and consequence of meeting the needs of others. Secondary Trauma refers to effects of trauma on an individual where they have not directly experienced the traumatic event. The effects if secondary exposure are just the same as those who have experienced primary trauma.
Vicarious Trauma is the transformation in the self of a caregiver who has worked with traumatised clients and their experiences of trauma.
Burn Out is the result of prolonged exposure to stressful or demanding environments where the person has perceived diminished control over the circumstances. They could also be affected by trauma, fear or uncertainty, loss of
security, and emotional distress; and ultimately their outlook on life becomes negative. During the session we had a lot of group discussion on our own personal experiences and that of working with certain organisations. Culture within organisations was a hot topic – and how organisations view their responsibilities to counsellors and expectations of counsellors. Members of the group discussed how their organisations had not supported them and the consequences of this or vice versa – where great support had been given and how this had impacted the counsellor was in stark contrast. It was noted that it isn’t always the organisation that doesn’t recognise the importance of support and supervision. It could be a poor culture within a team where peers suggest that ‘we just need to get on with it, we all know the job is hard’.
Counsellors voiced the concerns that in some of their organisations, they feel the need to prioritise quantity over quality – which for most counsellors will cause conflict within them and ultimately burn out.
So what does Burn out or Compassion fatigue look like? The speaker showed us a stressed out person (Burn out) and a happy person who was smiling and caring (Compassion fatigue). This visual representation highlighted the personal need for caregivers to carry on – bypassing their own needs for the sake of others and maybe not noticing the symptoms earlier as could be – a common pit fall for counsellors.
The Caring Cycle was introduced to us from a book titled the Resilient Practitioner.
Initially with a client there is a period of Attachment where we build an emotional connection, rapport and trust. Then follows the Involvement where we use our skills and energy to do the work. Then at the end of the therapy we start to remove ourselves from the sessions and client, this phase is Separation. The last phase is Recreation whereas practitioners we start to rest, recover ad repair for the next client. This cycle can happen all in one session and over a period of sessions with a client.
The group acknowledged that the ending needs to be healthy and positive for both the client and the counsellor. Disruption to the cycle can have powerful effects on all.
Finally the group discussed the need for ‘permission’ to accept there might be a problem for them; to acknowledge their need for support. That we might not always have a tangible problem, it could be a ‘feeling’ – but nevertheless, this could still be problematic to our own wellbeing. We can be mindful of the culture of society we live in today – the need to keep plodding on – maybe that’s why it is confusing for us sometimes.
There’s a conflict between how we feel and what’s expected. But we can remember that we do have a special role and we do a good job. Being secure in our selfawareness and beliefs can help us maintain our core-self.
Ways to help ourselves (‘to maintain fitness for practice’) include, leaving the counselling room between sessions, maintaining a good social life, humour, creativity, exercise, holidays, peer support and supervision – but this is not an exhaustive list. The talk served as a useful reminder of the ever present need to care for ourselves as we care for others.