Let’s keep our conversation real: disillusionment happens to the best of us.
Unsung warriors who have been in the Social Service Sector for long would have gone through low valleys and mountain tops alike.
The former would probably be more common, for the journey of reaching out to change lives has always been a messy yet highly purposeful one.
Social Service practitioners solve problems that arise within the fabric of society. Arguably, they are literally witnessing the worst sides of humanity with the shortest end of the stick that life can ever offer.
Against such a grim background, Social Service practitioners have to be the uplifters turning the tables on situations that are seemingly hopeless. They are presumably the light in darkness, encouraging others to look beyond present circumstances to offer help emotionally, financially and physically.
How many of us can last through it all? The tyres of a well-travelled car would wear out eventually. How long more do you have, until you give in to the circumstances- to dejection, disappointment and failure?
Sometimes you extend your arms all the way, all the way until they grew sour. Be it a fresh graduate entering the Social Service Sector or a seasoned practitioner, we all face the likelihood of compassion fatigue.
So, what is compassion fatigue?
Academically, compassion fatigue refers to a gradual lessening of compassion over time. It is the formal caregiver’s reduced capacity or interest in being empathetic or bearing the suffering of clients.
It is when you feel numb from all the brokenness you have been seeing, day after day and perhaps, year after year.
According to the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry in 2006, compassion fatigue has two main underlying dimensions: (1) work burnout and (2) secondary trauma.
These two dimensions are highly prominent in the Social Service Sector as practitioners work in cases directly. They include school counsellors, therapists, nurses, teachers for special needs, child protection officers, case workers, group workers, community workers and many more. Many of them are likely to have a strong empathic orientation while also being periodically exposed to a significant number of cases.
As a prevailing sight, practitioners in the Social Service Sector would be one of the community that suffers from compassion fatigue the most.
In the United States, a study was done on mental health professionals providing clinical services to Katrina victims since 2005. Findings show that rates of negative psychological symptoms increased in the community of professionals. Within the sample size, 72% of the professionals experienced anxiety, 62% experienced increased suspiciousness about the world around them, while 42% reported feeling increasingly vulnerable after treating the Katrina victims.
This case study shows how secondary trauma can be one of the spillover impacts from natural disasters. Even as Singapore does not experience the same disasters, many formal caregivers are consistently influenced by other devastating events and bitter stories.
There is a need to identify it before conditions worsen.
Symptoms include the following:
- Constant stress and anxiety
- Insomnia or nightmares
- Pervasive negative attitude
- Inability to focus
- Feelings of incompetency and self-doubt
The first step is always to acknowledge that these unsung warriors are human too.
Only then can we move forward to seek help and support them as they are.Here are some ways in which we can care for our caregivers out there:
- Make it easy for them to practice self-care
- Have them set emotional boundaries
- Encourage them to stay physically active
- Recommend a support group or community
- Suggest deliberate breathing techniques
- Get them to note down thoughts and reflections
- Swap for smarter workplace strategies
- Sign them up for personal therapy
Caring for these professional caregivers has never been more important. Now that our society is moving towards a higher demand for social services, this is an opportune moment for us to review the existing support network for them.
The Social Service Sector will always require a striking element of humanity that technology and AI (Artificial Intelligence) cannot replace.
This reason alone is good enough for us to always celebrate and strengthen the welfare for the hands that hold Singapore together.
If not, we might lose both the beneficiaries and compassionate professionals for good.
Bringing the discussion back, what are some of the policy changes that we can start with?
Are there any new ways for us to streamline administrative processes so that these practitioners can find time for themselves?
Useful links and references
Adams, R., Boscarino, J. and Figley, C. (2006). Compassion fatigue and psychological distress among social workers: A validation study. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 76(1), pp.103-108.
Compassion Fatigue - Because You Care. (2008). St. Petersburg Bar Association Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.transitionsandyou.com/Compassion_Fatigue.pdfCulver, L., McKinney, B., Paradise, L. (2011). Mental Health Professionals' Experiences of Vicarious Traumatization in Post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, 16(1), 33-42.
The Cost of Caring: 10 Ways to Prevent Compassion Fatigue. (2017). GoodTherapy.org Therapy Blog. Retrieved 30 July 2017, from http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/the-cost-of-caring-10-ways-to-prevent-compassion-fatigue-0209167
What is Compassion Fatigue? (2017). The Caregiver Space. Retrieved 30 July 2017, from http://thecaregiverspace.org/what-is-compassion-fatigue/