Burnout, Compassion Fatigue, and Vicarious Trauma

IMG_2564Therapists, social workers, counselors: One of the many joys of my work as an art therapist is being in space with you as you navigate what it means to be of service to someone else. Many of you are called to this work because you have felt the enormity of making a difference in someone’s life. You know how to listen with your whole body. You can put yourself in someone else’s shoes. And, you’ve had the honor of witnessing someone’s most vulnerable and freeing moments in the sacred space of your office.

The challenge of being a sensitive, empathic, and caring person is that you accumulate stories, pain, and trauma from your clients and feel it’s your job to hold them. 

You might feel guilty or ashamed to seek your own help because you feel this is what comes with the territory of your work. What I see over and over again is counselors who burn out and will themselves to keep going until they have a full-blown health issue or leave the field completely.

Burnout, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma are gradations in a realm of giving too much of yourself and taking on what’s not yours. Signs you are out of equilibrium might include replaying your client’s story over and over again, having trouble sleeping, and feeling helpless and small. It’s easy to brush off your symptoms as just being work stress.

It takes an act of courage, honesty, and vulnerability to seek out your own counseling so you can lessen the emotional burden you are carrying. 

Taking this step models to your clients that you know what it’s like to be vulnerable with another person and to prioritize your mental and emotional health. Not only is it essential for your overall sense of well-being, but it’s how you’ll make being a helper a lasting career, where your clients can feel your sense of presence and availability.

Take this self-assessment to see a quantitative measure of how much your work as a helper is affecting your sense of well-being. If you’re seeing signs of burnout, compassion fatigue, or vicarious trauma please reach out to a qualified professional so you can keep doing your important work. The image above is a reminder to keep aligning with your true north and to take joy in your work even as it resides amidst darkness and pain.

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