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Work in the veterinary industry? You need to understand compassion fatigue

Posted in 1. Mental health resources @ Nov 5th 2015 - By Rosie Overfield, CCG
Work In The Veterinary Industry You Need To Understand Compassion Fatigue

Compassion Fatigue has been described as the “cost of caring" for others in emotional and physical pain. 

- (Figley, 1982).

Compassion fatigue can be described as an emotional or spiritual exhaustion that takes over an individual.  It is a state of tension and preoccupation with the individual or cumulative trauma of animals.  It can be triggered by an individual event, such as exposure to a particular cruelty case, or by chronic exposure to a number of events in the environment. 

Compassion fatigue is what we can feel when we’ve cared for others more than ourselves. 

When we are faced with events that seem unchangeable compassion fatigue can harden the most diligent animal lover.  The overwhelming sense of responsibility can become exaggerated and out of balance.

Often in devotion to the cause, veterinarians, nurses and animal care workers can lose their ability to see good in the world.  Cynicism and loss of enjoyment at work can lead to depression. Some sufferers of compassion fatigue can experience sleeplessness, anxiety, avoidance of certain tasks, feelings of helplessness and even flashbacks.   The impact on the workplace can include poor job performance and high staff turnover rates.  Some people are driven out of the veterinary industry entirely.

Factors that contribute to compassion fatigue....

Compassion fatigue operates on a continuum throughout a professional career.[1] At some point, veterinary professionals may be more immune to its affects, and at other times, beaten down. Additional contributing factors may play a part in each person’s ability to manage. 

The contributing factors can include:

o   Restructuring or dramatic change in the practice

o   Limited funding and equipment to do the job

o   Unsupportive network in which to talk to

o   Society’s attitudes towards animals and pet care

o   Additional concerns at home, with Partner/kids etc.

Coping and healing compassion fatigue

Cultivating inner peace, preventing, coping with and healing compassion fatigue, is not a one- time activity. It's not a finite project like building a house. It's more like the ongoing creation of a garden. It's never done. It requires ongoing attention. Yet, like the joy of tending and continually creating a garden, there can be great contentment and satisfaction in tending to our own bodies, hearts and souls.

Whilst our service to animals is so important, so is taking great care of ourselves.

Compassion fatigue often robs us of desire to engage in hobbies and activities we previously had enjoyed.  Sometimes it is important to learn to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to opportunities and activities.  We can often fall into the ‘all or nothing’ trap with hobbies.  A friend of mine recently said that working on Saturdays had taken away her weekly golfing day.  She felt she had had to “give up her favourite thing”.   After talking about it, I suggested she didn’t have to be ‘all or nothing’ about golf.

Perhaps she could instead spend just an hour or two at the driving range on a week night to reclaim some time for herself. 

All too often we can give up what we love because we can’t do it in the same way as we have previously done.   A bit of creative thinking can go a long way to re-installing hobbies and renewing activities.

To find out more about managing compassion fatigue and stress, sign up to our Proskills Short Courses at  Early bird discounts apply for Practice Memberships! For more information call 07 3621 6005.


[1]Mathieu, Francoise 2007

About Rosie

Rosie is a HR consultant and counsellor with Crampton Consulting Group specialising in stress management, compassion fatigue and grief. She is also a qualified veterinary nurse and has been working in, and for, the industry for nearly 20 years. Having previously studied a B. Communication, Rosie is now focused on her Master of Human Resources and Organisational Development. She has also spent time in Canada studying compassion fatigue and its effects on professional helpers.

Click here to visit the CCG Page in the Vetanswers Business Directory


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