Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Blog the Change: Compassion Fatigue

We are participating in today's Blog the Change for Animals. Thanks for joining us!

Blog the Change


For those of you who aren't familiar with Compassion Fatigue, it's what can happen when a caregiver (of humans or animals) focuses on others without taking care of themselves.

A few years ago, Wayside Waifs flew in an expert on Compassion Fatigue. I know it's not the same as being there, but the presenter, Jana Svoboda, has also written about it on her blog, and there's some really helpful information there.

Here's how she describes CF:

"Animal shelter workers and other workers in fields where needs outweigh resources, and where empathy is a crucial part of the call to service are at high risk for compassion fatigue.

"Like burnout, CF can suck the joy out of doing important work. But while one can burn out at any job, compassion fatigue is associated with jobs in which the worker is exposed to suffering and trauma.

"Also known as secondary traumatic stress or vicarious trauma, one doesn't have to be the victim of life's precariousness to feel the effects of witnessing it. "

She goes on to talk about something she calls the Troublesome Trifecta that we need to be aware of, and manage for our own mental and emotional health.  This Trifecta a combination of three traits: what she has labeled Big Radar (the ability to take in everything), Big Sensitivity (you just feel everything in a big way) and Big Brains (the need to analyze everything).

If this sounds like it describes you, read on:

The Trifecta can be a double-sided coin when you're engaged in a mission to help save the lives of animals. On the plus side of that coin you'll find a deep empathy, curiosity and creativity. On the other side, however, is the ability to be wounded deeply, feeling overwhelmed and not feeling adequate to meet the needs of your particular calling.

As Jana says, "It's important, beautiful, essential we don't give it up learning how to navigate these beautiful, dangerous waters."  Finding balance in our own lives every day will allow us to avoid Compassion Fatigue, and will in the long run, be better for those sweet animals we so long to help.

I know this is a short Blog the Change for Animal post, and it redirects you to another site, but I feel this is important. And I hope passing this info along can help someone else as much as Jana's lecture helped me.



  1. great info. mom says one of the best ways she finds to deal with it is to have good friends who have the same passion - and just make sure everyone doesn't burn out at the same time. :) having support from those that understand and can pick you up is HUGE!

  2. I am a caregiver (to a human!) and this compassionate fatigue is something that applies to that situation as well.

  3. watching compassion fatigue in person is not something anyone should go through, let alone actually going through. Wonderful post idea.. thank you for sharing it with us.

  4. It may be short, but it carries an important message.

  5. This is great info - animal welfare work is so emotionally training and seemingly never-ending sometimes, I can see how this could plague anyone working in the industry.

  6. This is an important issue - humans who help kitties (and humans too) need to stay as mentally healthy and happy as possible so they can keep helping! It's sad when caring humans burn out.

  7. This is a really important topic, so thanks for sharing it! We've seen this phenomenon with friends in the animal rescue field, and it's so sad.

  8. It is very important to pay attention to where you are with caregiving, especially after a long time, and don't try to be a hero. I not only have the trifecta she mentions, but I also had a trifecta of caregiving with all my rescue cats, my disabled brother and my ill and incapacitated mother. I quit rescuing cats and taking in fosters three years ago to lessen the burden of it and still having a little break.

  9. This happens in veterinary medicine a lot too, and the rate of suicide in veterinary medicine is 4 times higher than in the general population 2 times higher than that of physicians.

    I find it interesting that many psychiatrists and religious professions are encouraged or required to get pro-active counseling because they are in draining, helping professions.

    When you work so hard and give so much of yourself, often in the face of sadness and loss - we have to recognize the need for preventive care for our hearts and minds.

  10. Interesting that the trifecta is essential for teaching also, which was the career that burned me out. I feel exactly like Kim does, only in regard to education. I don't even read the local news about the schools. It seems to me that the jobs/professions that most need emotional support get very little of it.

  11. Thanks for sharing the link. I agree that the support needed for is in short supply for all helping professions, from teaching to police work to vets and shelter/rescue workers. It's essential we advocate for ourselves to get it. We really don't want just the numb and paycheck-bound doing the work. It's great if you can convince admin to bring it in/allow the time/whatever, but if that's impossible or you are working on your own, organize with others to share ideas and debrief, online or in person. It helps to know others get what you are feeling. Your good work is important, and so is your own self care. Jana

    1. No, Jana, thank YOU. Your visit to Wayside and your session on compassion fatigue is one I will never forget. You are an amazing storyteller and a gifted teacher. It was an honor to hear you speak.


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