Imagine you are working as a helping professional. Maybe you are an Employment Consultant – you are working with people who live with disability, mental health diagnosis and trauma histories. You have a high workload and really care a lot about doing a great job for the people you support. Your work is varied and complex, the workload is demanding and the contract is complicated. Now lets take a look at a few scenarios.
In an effort to try and get through your work (and support people the best that you can) you start working through your lunch breaks and staying late after work. The layers of administration you need to complete are burdensome, there are guideline inconsistencies and you start to feel powerless, exhausted and notice that you aren’t enjoying your work anymore. When your friends and family are going through difficulties you still feel compassionate and are able to help them out. You still feel safe in the world – this is burnout.
Now imagine that you are feeling so physically and emotionally drained that you feel like you have nothing left to give anyone in terms of support or empathy. When you go home from work you can’t turn off and you keep thinking about the people you are supporting. You still feel safe in the world but you find it hard to care about what other people are going through – this is empathy (compassion) fatigue.
Now imagine that you regularly hear distressing stories from the people you are supporting about the traumas they have experienced. You start to feel that the world is full of danger. Over time you become more and more protective of your family and you become pre-occupied with keeping your family safe. Your world view has changed – this is vicarious trauma.
Recognising the types of trauma and their effects can help us identify stress reactions both in ourselves as carers and professionals.