Recently, I was emailing with another acupuncturist about what she’d like to do in the long term. One goal she has is to work with animal shelter workers and compassion fatigue. Acupuncture has a lot to offer those workers. I’d like to take a closer look at what compassion fatigue. Now and then, when Chey lets me, I’ll be having an article about how this relates to shelter workers and the volunteers who support them.
According to the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project, “Caring too much can hurt. When caregivers focus on others without practicing self-care, destructive behaviors can surface.” For animal lovers, let’s remember that “others” can also mean animals, whether it’s a homeless pet, the pets our community loves and knows (consider how hard it is when multiple long time bloggers lose beloved pets) or animals harmed, endangered or lost due to catastrophic events.
The older name for the constellation of symptoms now called compassion fatigue was secondary traumatic stress disorder. And that’s it. We need to recognize that each time we find ourselves working to rescue a pet, help someone find money to save their pet, we are working in a traumatic environment and the prolonged exposure to such events can leave us overwhelmed. The awareness project mostly takes into account work place situations which can be very true for veterinary caregivers.
Volunteers, though, can also suffer. In fact, the very fact that there is so much that needs to be done and only so much one human can do can make volunteers even more susceptible to such fatigue. Further, the fact that people around the volunteer may not understand what the person is dealing with. Loved ones may not share the same level of commitment and passion, isolating the volunteer. Thus, there are fewer outlets for support.
Over time this is an issue that I will be writing about, not only to raise awareness, but to look at what is happening from the perspective of an acupuncturist and also offering suggestions about what can help. Even if you don’t have compassion fatigue as a volunteer, it doesn’t mean that those around you don’t. There are a lot of animals who need help. Let’s take care of ourselves so we can keep doing the work we feel so strongly about.