Combating Compassion Fatigue – Nursing

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Phenomenon of Compassion Fatigue

Responsiveness and empathy are, perhaps, among the most important qualities of a professional nurse. However, because of stressful environment and the necessity to empathize with every single patient, whose needs the nurse is supposed to tend to, healthcare specialist often find themselves in a trap of a compassion fatigue.

Traditionally defined as a “stress disorder that was first identified in the 1950s, primarily among vocations that provide care for people in crisis” (Huister & Ansley, 2010, p. 102), compassion fatigue is often mistaken for a burnout. In fact, some of researchers do not make any distinction between the two: “Sherman (2004) identified personality characteristics such as perfectionism and over-involvement with clients as contributing to compassion fatigue or burnout” (Espeland, 2006, p. 180).

Thesis statement: though compassion fatigue is often compared to a burnout and, therefore, treated in the same way as the latter is, the coping processes, in fact, must be based on enhancing the feeling of the nurse’s work significance and the redefinition of the nurse’s orienting system; thus, job stress can be dealt with in a more efficient manner and a nurse will be able to not only manage stress fast and efficiently, but also provide patients with the care that they need.

Warning Signs for Five Concepts of Compassion Fatigue

As a rule, compassion fatigue is quite hard to spot at the earliest stages of its development; as a result, most nurses ignore the issue until it grows too big to be resolved fast. Though the number of concepts that the phenomenon of compassion fatigue includes is quite big, they can be reduced to five basic ones. First and most obvious, its emotional concept should be mentioned. As soon as a nursing specialist feels that their emotions are somewhat “numbed”, they should be tested for compassion fatigue. The cognitive aspect is, weirdly enough, another sign that may point at the instance of compassion fatigue.

The inability to establish a stronger link with the patient and, therefore, carry out the communication procedure in a more efficient manner, as well as development of introversive behavior, is considered one of the alarming symptoms of compassion fatigue. The behavioral signs are also quite noticeable; as a rule, a nurse that has developed compassion fatigue is unable to be open to experienced; being completely devastated after months of exhausting work, a nursing specialist will not be able to embrace new opportunities.

Finally, spiritual and somatic aspects of the phenomenon in question must be listed among the key concepts related to compassion fatigue. Whenever a nurse feels that they are both exhausted both physically and drained emotionally, they are most likely to be diagnosed with compassion fatigue. Neither of the symptoms listed above clearly cannot be regarded as the ultimate proof for an instance of compassion fatigue, especially if it emerges alone; however, when each of the phenomena can be traced easily, they point at the necessity to develop a therapy for a nurse.

Nature of the Problem and Its Key Causes: Analysis

While the existence of compassion fatigue cannot be doubted, its nature is yet to be explored. It can be suggested that the disorder, for the lack of a better word, stems from the exhaustion and the excessive involvement of the nurse. This suggestion, however, raises the question whether involvement into the patient and their progress can actually be excessive. In other words, the need to define the point, at which involvement turns into a threat to the nurse’s health must be defined.

As a rule, job stress is identified as the nature of the compassion fatigue phenomenon. In their study, Chen, Lin, Wang and Hou (2009) specify that the lack of job satisfaction traditionally triggers compassion fatigue in nurses. Indeed, when considering the issue closer, one will have to admit that job satisfaction and the following motivation for excelling in one’s job, particularly, in nursing, is a major performance enhancer for most employees (Chen, Lin, Wang & Hou, 2009).

Therefore, the lack thereof triggers an immediate drop in the employee’s enthusiasm and engagement; as a result, weariness develops quite fast, and compassion fatigue ensues (Ekedahl & Wengström, 2007). Consequently, the lack of incentives, either financial rewards or non-monetary recognition, may be seen as another major factor along with the lack of personal time and the need to be emotionally responsive all the time.

Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Needs of the Caregiver

As it has been stressed above, in the course of developing a compassion fatigue, a nurse undergoes a devastating process of emotional draining. At this point, it would be reasonable to remind of the fact that there is a good reason for confusing compassion fatigue with a burnout. The latter is what causes compassion fatigue, and it must be addressed by recognizing the emotional, spiritual and physical needs of the caregiver. In other words, a nurse must be provided with an opportunity to take not only a physical rest, but also an emotional one.

As numerous researches point out, some people develop the personality traits that allow them to fulfill their needs rather easily. According to Espeland, a range of researches “identified hardiness, locus of control, coping styles, personality type, and attitude as important factors in potential burnout” (Espeland, 2006, p. 178).

However, it is wrong to leave nursing specialists to deal with their physical, psychological and emotional needs on their own; instead, a partial load mode of work must be designed for the nurses that face the issue of compassion fatigue. As Huister and Ansley explain, “These people are tired, unmotivated, not giving prompt care” (Huster & Ansley, 2010, p. 102).

Examples of Coping Strategies and Resources for the Caregiver

As it has been stressed above, a range of coping strategies have been created to prevent the development of compassion fatigue among nurses. Most of these strategies are based on the idea of enhancing the communication process between the nurse and the patient, as well as creating a stronger bond between the two.

Despite the overall reasonability of the aforementioned tactics in addressing the problem of compassion fatigue, it still seems that fighting the emotional strain that a nurse develops over time is the key towards combating compassion fatigue.

Indeed, while communication issue is important, what a nurse with compassion fatigue really needs is to take both a physical and an emotional rest from their everyday routine and duties. As a result, another efficient strategy for getting rid of compassion fatigue concerns the reconsideration of the nurse’s schedule; the latter is shaped so that it could be less tight and allow for longer periods of rest between the sessions of taking care of the patient.

When creating a strategy for addressing the issue of compassion fatigue, one must keep in mind that the stressors, which a nurse may be under, are unique in each case; therefore, a specific set of tools for the therapy must be designed. Gupta and Woodman (2010) single out several everyday stressors, yet make it clear that the list of stressors is not restricted to the following factors: “Role definition, professional boundaries, multiprofessional working, caseload numbers, staffing levels.” (Gupta & Woodman, 2010, p. 14).

Therefore, among the strategies that are traditionally used in order to handle the compassion fatigue problem, such methods as task prioritization, self-care fun and working parties are traditionally used (Gupta & Woodman, 2010, p. 17).

Conclusion: A Quick Path to Efficient Stress Management

There is no need to stress the significance of a choice of a stress management strategy for a nurse. Because of the specifics of the routine work, a nurse may grow weary within a relatively short amount of time unless a proper coping mechanism is established. Though the phenomenon of a compassion fatigue is traditionally referred to a burnout, its nature is quite different from that one of the latter; as a result, compassion fatigue needs an entirely different approach based on the combination of a rationalized schedule and an efficient strategy for developing a stress coping mechanism.

More to the point, it is crucial that the corresponding resources for the caregiver to handle stress and tension should always be at the nurse’s disposal. It is only by reconsidering the schedule and setting the priorities straight that a nurse can avoid being hit by the compassion fatigue.

Reference List

Chen, C. K., Lin, C., Wang, S. H. & Hou, T.-H. (2009). A study of job stress, stress coping strategies and job satisfaction for nurses working in middle-level hospital operating rooms. Journal of Nursing Research, 17(2), 199–211.

Ekedahl, M. & Wengström, Y. (2007). Coping processes in a multidisciplinary healthcare team – a comparison of nurses in cancer care and hospital chaplains. European Journal of Cancer Care, 17(1), 42–48.

Espeland, K. E. (2006). Overcoming burnout: How to revitalize your career. The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 37(4), 178–184.

Gupta, V. & Woodman, C. (2010). Managing stress in a palliative care team. Paediatric Nursing, 22(10), 14–18.

Huister, S. & Ansley, M. (2010,). Program to combat ‘compassion fatigue.’ Hospice Management Advisor, 15(9), 102–103.

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