Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma for Counselling Therapists
How does the helper keep from getting used up and run down? That was the key question addressed in a recent seminar I presented. I was invited by the Manitoba-East branch of the Professional Association of Christian Counsellors and Psychotherapists (PACCP) to deliver of one-day seminar of the topic to their practitioners.
I have been a member and been involved in the leadership of this Canadian national association since its inception in 2000. It is a vibrant organization that seeks to promote excellence in its practitioners. To this end branches sponsor professional development events and this event was one of those. Thirty or so members attended and were stimulated to reflect on the sustainability of their well-being so that they are able to practice in their chosen ministry/professional as long as they wish.
It is a peculiar truth that those who are helpers are generally quite terrible at recognizing their own vulnerability to burnout, compassion fatigue and vicarious traumatization!
How come? Counselling therapists are at least knowledgeable, if not expert at recognizing trauma in others. but can be blissfully ignorant of the signs within their own hearts and minds. How come? The answers are multiple. But a stating place is that helpers have a well-honed capacity to shut off or invalidate their own vicarious stress in response to an other’s stress. On the upside it makes the therapist or helper good at doing what they are doing. The helper is very empathetic and other centered. On the down side the therapist can easily end up missing out on having their own trauma response to the client’s material. That can be the starting place for a cumulative effect that leads to vicarious trauma and/or burnout.
So, the seminar presentation is dear to my heart. I for one want to be fit to practice for as long as I wish and not be sidelined by burnout, compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma.
Let me know your thoughts or your story of vicarious trauma.
Dr. Don Russell
I am a counselling therapist, trainer and professional speaker. Strangers have stopped me in public and said, "Wow, you look just like Patrick Steward/Jean Luc Picard". I'll take that compliment!