By Freya Locke
How does Compassion Fatigue affect workers in the animal care community, and how can its effects be minimised?
Advanced Diploma graduate Freya Locke looks into compassion fatigue in workers within the animal care community.
Below is the introduction to the thesis, and the entire paper is available for download in PDF format here:
Caring for another being can be one of life‘s greatest pleasures. From the mother who has just held her newborn baby for the first time experiencing the surge of oxytocin rushing through her body to make her fall in love with the infant, to the excited child who has been bought their very first hamster and can‘t believe how cute it is, to a doctor successfully treating their first patient, proudly writing the prescription, knowing that all will be well. Caring for and improving the life of another being fulfils needs within ourselves to see ourselves as ―good‖, to know that we have made a difference to the life of something else. It gives us a feeling of self – worth. (PSYCHALIVE, 2016, para.9) But, as with all good things, it can turn bad. Caring too much can hurt. Caring too much can make a person ill. Caring too much can stop a person from caring. Caring too much can even kill. (Zimlich, 2014) When a person who has cared, experiences trauma after trauma, be it in person or as secondary trauma (when a person is so affected by the traumatic experiences of another being, that they take on the symptoms of trauma themselves), it begins to take its toll on the carer and they can begin to exhibit symptoms of Compassion Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). (Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project, 2017) CFS is seemingly largely unknown by the general public, although it is documented and written about in scholarly circles, and people in the animal and human caring communities may or may not have heard of it. They may know of the symptoms, have even have felt them, or known someone who has felt the effects, but have never known there was a name for how they were feeling. They may also not have known that help is available if they are only able to reach out for it. Sadly, not every person who ever had CFS found themselves recovering, some simply leave their profession and move on… and for some… there have been too many sad losses of wonderful kind, caring, empathic souls – who knows what greatness they would have achieved had their stories ended differently. Cases like those of Tiffany Margolin and Amanda Lumsden, both of Santa Barbara, within months of each other in 2017 and 2018. Both women were successful, with their own mobile Veterinary businesses, dispensing medicines, performing surgeries and giving general care at home to pets. ―Their deaths shocked colleagues and clients, who said neither had shown obvious signs of distress. But the losses are reflective of a quiet crisis within their profession. ―It‘s a problem in our field,‖ said Dr. Kristi Gibbs at the Adobe Pet Hospital on upper State Street. ―Both women were probably the kindest people you‘d ever meet, and the loss is especially devastating because we‘re such a small community, but this is happening everywhere. That‘s the kicker.‖‖ (Hayden, 2018, para.2) In this paper I shall explore the symptoms and effects of CFS on Animal care workers, and the ways of recovering from CFS or avoiding it altogether, by calling on existing literature, the internet and the experiences of friends and colleagues at various stations within the sector.