Compassion Fatigue

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Compassion Fatigue

Postby Amie » Mon Feb 21, 2011 10:31 pm

The shelter where I work hosted a Compassion Fatigue seminar today (I found this ironic, because it meant we had to cram a full day of work into three hours, then sit for eight hours and talk about how draining our jobs are...)

Compassion Fatigue and Compassion Stress are similar to Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder in that they are related to traumatic events or series of traumas, but they are sometimes called Secondary Trauma - the instance that is causing the Fatigue doesn't happen to the person who suffers the Fatigue.

Caregivers in all areas can fall victim - doctors, hospice workers, ministers, and (of course) shelter workers. In fact, shelter workers have an added issue, Euthanasia Related Stress, being as shelter work is the only industry in the world where it is our job to try to save and then intentionally kill the same beings. There is a quiz, akin to the Myers Briggs Personality Inventory, which can tell you if you are suffering from Compassion Fatigue yourself (I can't find the exact one I took today, but there are several others online). I scored very, very high. Animal workers in general tend to score higher than even other caregiving industries, but my results showed I'm very burnt out at this point, even when compared to my industry norm. I think I knew that anyway.

There were many things I didn't care for about the seminar itself, but I found the topic quite interesting, and I'm wondering if anyone here has ever looked into this issue, or sought out counselors or group leaders to help with the issue.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby starrlamia » Mon Feb 21, 2011 10:50 pm

It makes sense, what you guys do on a daily basis is amazing and takes a lot of courage, love and stamina. There is a very high rate of burnout in the midwifery field as well, though the majority of the time things are fine it is really stressful for when they dont.

I keep seeing signs around here that advertise for nursing with slogans like "We should be putting nurses faces on cards" or something to that effect and then have a mock sports ad for nurses.

Sorry to hear you are suffering from this :( But the respect and appreciation I have for all of you is so strong I cant even put it into words. Thank you.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby XDogs » Tue Feb 22, 2011 1:26 am

was it held by Carrie LaJeuness?
Regardless as to who did it.. what didn't you like about it?
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby heartbullies » Tue Feb 22, 2011 1:56 am

Um, I have worked full-time and with no lapse in employment in 3 different animal shelters in seven years and have had exactly 2 total hours addressing compassion fatigue, with part of that as a state-mandated inclusion in a Euthanasia Technician certification class. Yup. Yesterday someone who sells "ultra local" chichi honey products at the local farmers' markets brought in a healthy animal she wanted me to put to sleep, and told me about how euthanasia is too expensive so in the past she killed her old cat by putting it in a bag with dry ice, because "it's just like drowning, you know." People are chronically mistreating and mishandling animals, either through well-intentioned ignorance or intentional cruelty which guarantees our continued employment for as long as we'd like, wherever we move in the country. Double-edged sword, right? I'm sorry you're feeling so burnt out. For me, and I realize this is probably exactly what they told you today, it's really important to do some animal stuff with my own dog with sane, fun people in my spare time but also develop and engage in non-animal related activities especially activities that do not involve care-taking. I stopped doing therapy dog visits b/c it was hard to go to a school and hear the kids talk about how their brothers breed pit bulls or at a senior home because it made me really profoundly sad to see people whose families treat them in the same callous ways that they treat companion animals. I realize I could have helped there and brought cheer, but I gotta limit myself to 40 hours a week of working in that vein. You're a great friend to animals-- don't forget that, even if you choose to work in a different profession eventually. Sometimes just realizing that you may not be working in this field forever can be really helpful, too.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby buckaroo » Tue Feb 22, 2011 5:39 am

The best answer we came up with at our shelter was to hire euth. techs that only came in to euth and then left. It's easier on the techs and easier on the staff if the people who get to know the animals aren't the ones directly killing them. We couldn't afford it though.

Typically the other answer is to quit or reduce hours when people get burnt out which isn't a good solution.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby Amie » Tue Feb 22, 2011 7:38 am

XDogs wrote:was it held by Carrie LaJeuness?
Regardless as to who did it.. what didn't you like about it?


It wasn't, though I believe she's the originator of the "quiz" we took. I'll type it up if you guys are interested - I was told we have permission so long as it's unchanged and attributed to her.



The things that I'm burnt out about were not related to the actual job, so much as other issues at work that are draining the whole staff, and making the job itself far more difficult. I still deeply believe that I'm in the right career, and will make a big difference. I just don't think the difference is happening where I am now.

I don't handle euthanasia directly. Occasionally (not quite once a day) I'm involved in the selection, and I don't think I mind that, because it means I can stop other, more adoptable animals from being pulled. I know there's guilt and issues there still, but it's not a massive stressor. The man who led the course has never once worked in a shelter and not been directly involved in euth, by means of actually doing it (he told us he killed* his first animal on his very first shift, about ten minutes after he started), or being a supervisor, and I felt like he completely blew off the stress of caring for an animal, feeding it, working on its behavior, trying to get it adopted, and then watching someone walk it into the euthanasia room. In fact, he said asking why an animal is on the list (and these were his exact words) "Is an act of aggression. Knock it off." He spent a good amount of time on the stress of being the one to take the animals in when they are surrendered, and spent a LOT of time on the stress of euthanasia, and very, very little else was said about those of us who don't do either of those things. I very much understand that those are stressful - I've talked to members of the staff about it privately, and how much I respect what they go through. But this guy succeeded in making the largest department in the shelter seem like we're being disrespectful and will just never understand how the others feel. One of my big issues is you can never tell anyone else how much pain they are in. You don't get to decide that. You just don't. And I felt like he decided my pain wasn't as valid as the others, and many of my coworkers felt the same.




*he may have said euthanized, I'm not sure. What he described was not humane, and he acknowledged that. I've been getting increasingly picky about when I use the word "euthanasia" -- sign of burn out, I suppose
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby buckaroo » Tue Feb 22, 2011 8:01 am

If you're feelings of burn out aren't directly related to the job itself, then it sounds like you've got internal problems in your department that need addressing.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby Amie » Tue Feb 22, 2011 8:32 am

They're being worked on, I believe.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby pits-r-luv » Tue Feb 22, 2011 11:08 am

I'm so sorry you are having difficulties right now. I can't imagine. I am an OR RN and have dealt with life and death and terminal prognosis for 27 yrs (not to mention, really stupid superiors) and I know that you all have it much much worse.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby Shanda » Tue Feb 22, 2011 7:36 pm

I have had to deal with and work through compassion fatigue in shelter and AC, and even to some extent in general practice. I never had any courses or info available to me, I'd never heard of it until a friend said she thought that was why I wasn't sleeping and why I was being so negative. It sucks. It sucks so much that I'm not entirely certain I could go through it again and stay sane.

With my current job I'm dealing with stupid fatigue. I'm tired of dealing with people's idiocy. :po:

I am interested in the quiz, if you get time to post it. :thumbsup:

:hug:
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby haircrazie016 » Wed Feb 23, 2011 12:11 am

i dont know about the technical terms, but I definitely got burnt out when i volunteered at AC 3-5 days a week.

I agree with you, about how painful it is to care for, work with, and advocate for a certain animal only for that animal to be euthanized. Its gut wrenching, I definitely felt like I failed over and over again, and it really wore me down. When I really loved a dog that was being put down, sometimes I'd go with it. Hold it in my arms, and pet them and talk to them while they died. I got pretty good at waiting to break down until I made it to the bathroom after it was over. I would tell myself someone needed to be there for them who cares, but I have to say looking back those deaths still pain me the most. There have been lots of dogs I really cared for but didnt have the opportunity to be with them when they were PTS, and now it seems it was for the better....when I started cutting back my volunteer hours, I started focusing more on fostering and getting involved with different rescues, its definitely easier on me emotionally, and I really needed a break. I do miss working with lots of different dogs at one time though, but I know I am not ready to go back to it.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby XDogs » Wed Feb 23, 2011 12:30 am

Carrie is a doctor I have occasionally worked with, that's why I was interested in hearing about your thoughts on it. She is holding a workshop for us veterinary folks next month.. since it is in Portland on a day I have to work, I will be missing it.

It would be interesting to see the quiz, if you have it handy. Or I'll ask her next time she comes by to relieve for one of our docs.

I think it is very difficult in this and other animal care related jobs to not get cynical about owners and their sudden realization that fluffy has a basketball sized tumor on him, which started smelling today. Or the people crying because their 4 month old puppy broke its leg, but they don't have 2 pennies to rub together... or the 100th owner of the month who "just doesn't have enough time for Max and will have to give him up so a better home can swoop him up and give him the love he deserves".

Some of that cynicism is what keeps me alive in this job. If I didn't laugh at some of this stuff, I would have quit 18 years ago. Also, I can't get emotionally invested in every pet that walks through the door. Our newest LVT apparently (I don't work the same shift as she does, so I have just heard about it up to now) has spent the first 2 months of the job crying herself to sleep every night. Upon asking her how that was going, she said that she isn't doing it EVERY night anymore.. but every euthanasia (ones that are actually ending suffering, unlike healthy dogs at the shelter who were surrendered by some a-hole) is a total drain on her. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that... but that will burn you out like nobody's business.

So, I have been wondering..is it truely compassion fatigue, or is it a coping mechanism for some of us to simply tell each other how somebody "rushed in their pet after watching it not eat for 5 days?"
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby Amie » Wed Feb 23, 2011 8:07 am

Yes, macabre humor is definitely one of the coping mechanisms, and something my coworkers do all the time, too. We were told that studies have shown that even gallows humor helps in the same way more socially accepted humor does.

One of the things he pointed out though, was that while everyone says "Oh, I don't mind if it ends suffering, if it's kinder to put the animal down, or if there are severe temperament issues etc" the fact of the matter is that there is no less wear on your spirit doing it for helpful reasons and doing it "for space". It causes just as much depression and fatigue, no matter why the animal is killed or euthanized. Just taking part in that death, by doing the selecting or actually doing the act, is its own stressor, and the reason doesn't matter.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby nsbullylover » Wed Feb 23, 2011 8:33 am

I've been thinking about this thread since I read your original post yesterday Amie. I never before thought about how hard it must be to work in a shelter, or at a vet clinic, or in a similar position. I thought my job was stressful, and now I feel like a jerk because the worst thing I have to deal with is an angry client yelling at me. That's nothing compared to what you deal with on a daily basis. :hug:
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby Amie » Wed Feb 23, 2011 9:10 am

I wrote up the quiz here. The leader of our seminar (Doug Fakkema) said we could share it with proper attribution, and mentioned the name of the originator (which I think, but am not positive, was Carrie LaJeuness) but I don't see it in my paperwork, so the attribution I have is what he gave us.
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