Traumas are inevitable aspects of life that cause post-traumatic stress disorder and some other related problems. PTSD is dangerous not only for people who experienced traumas. It also influences healthcare professionals who work with individuals diagnosed with PTSD. The diversity of situations that make people exposed to violence, aggression, and stress demands professionalism, flexibility, and empathy from professionals who help these people manage stress (Hecker, Fetz, Ainamani, & Elbert, 2015; Schubert, Schmidt, & Rosner, 2016).
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Constant involvement in traumatic situations negatively influences the professional quality of life and increases the risk of compassion fatigue, burnout, and secondary traumatic stress. Screening of professional quality of life and its analysis can be useful for the evaluation of a person’s condition and development of personal characteristics that can support compassion satisfaction and reduce the risk of burnout or secondary traumatic stress.
Self-Reflection on Pro-QOL Screening Scores
The scores of my Professional quality screening allowed me to evaluate my current condition as a professional. I believe that my compassion satisfaction is high. I am pleased with the opportunity to do my work responsibly and with determination. My cooperation with colleagues and our common efforts to help people make me feel worthy. Thus, I am satisfied with what I do, and my position is the one I need.
The screening assessed my burnout as average. Burnout is one of the components of Compassion Fatigue. Despite the fact that I enjoy my job, sometimes when it is not possible to provide the necessary help, the feeling of hopelessness appears. I still believe that our efforts are significant, but during periods of high workload, I become worried that I am not as efficient as I could have been.
As for the level of secondary traumatic distress, which is the second component of Compassion Fatigue, the screening showed it is low. It means that I am not likely to develop serious problems because of being exposed to other people’s traumas or stressful situations. It does not mean that I am not compassionate. Still, I can differentiate work issues with personal worries.
Personal Risks for Burnout, Compassion Fatigue, and Secondary Traumatic Stress
There are some personal risk factors that stimulate the development conditions of burnout, compassion fatigue, and secondary traumatic stress. They are related both to personal characteristics and daily activities of a person. For example, the research by Bride (2007) revealed the prevalence of secondary traumatic stress among social workers. They are involved in providing aid to people in critical situations, frequently victims of violence or natural disasters that are the causes of direct traumatic stress.
Being compassionate with people in need of help, they are also exposed to traumatic and stressful experiences. Professionals who develop secondary stress disorder as a result of their activity observe such symptoms as an intrusion (intrusive thoughts, disturbing dreams about patients); avoidance (avoidance of patients or other people, reduced activity level, detachment); and arousal (hypervigilance, problems with concentration, irritability) (Bride, 2007).
Another factor contributing to the development of burnout and secondary traumatic stress is empathy. Burnout is related to professionals such as social workers dealing with people in stress, is commonly conceptualized as “a gradual process that rarely occurs suddenly or with one event, but instead builds over time as healthy defenses are worn down from an onslaught of emotional demands, frustrating job setbacks, or difficult situations or individuals” (Wagaman, Geiger, Shockley, & Segal, 2015, p. 201).
It should also be mentioned that such characteristics as excessive determination to work can have negative consequences for professionals working with people who experienced trauma. If they dedicate too much time to their work, they are likely to be too involved in the problems of other people. It can lead to secondary traumatic stress. A characteristic that can cause compassion fatigue is and burnout is a lack of flexibility. People who cannot accommodate work conditions of different intensity are more likely to experience burnout.
Personal Characteristics Protecting from Burnout, Compassion Fatigue, and Secondary Traumatic Stress
The professionals who work with trauma survivors should possess certain personal characteristics and have special knowledge to prevent vicarious trauma (Trippany, Kress, & Wilcoxon, 2004). One of the characteristics that can be effective in the prevention or reduction of burnout or secondary traumatic stress is the ability to provide some self-care strategies (Wagaman et al., 2016). It is important that professionals were able to “address their own personal, familial, emotional, and spiritual needs while responding to the demands and needs placed on them by clients” (Wagaman et al., 2016, p. 203).
Thus, it can be concluded that such personal characteristics as consciousness can be helpful in preventing burnout or secondary traumatic stress because a person is conscious of differentiating work and personal issues. Moreover, flexibility is one of the significant characteristics that help to adjust to the changing work conditions and thus reduce stress.
In addition, it is important that the people who are at risk of secondary traumatic stress or observe the signs of burnout or compassion fatigue were able to recover and thus prevent the development of the mentioned conditions. For example, Kolk (2015) suggests several ways to heal from the trauma that can be applied by both victims and professionals. Thus, yoga as the way to learn to inhabit one’s body can be practiced or self-leadership techniques can be applied (Kilk, 2015). Still, every case of posttraumatic stress of secondary traumatic stress is particular and should be reviewed individually.
The research by Wagaman et al. (2016) suggests that empathy “may be a factor contributing to the maintenance of the well-being and longevity of social workers in the field” (p. 207). Its specific component such as the awareness of self and other means the ability to find difference between the others and oneself and preserve personal boundaries. Thus, it is necessary to train the professionals who work with who experienced traumas not only to provide them with necessary knowledge how to help the others, but to retain one’s well-being.
On the whole, the issue of burnout, compassion fatigue or secondary traumatic stress is frequent among the professionals who help the victims of violence, traumas, or other kinds of stress. Consequently, they also can need help in case they are not able to cope with the situation. To avoid or prevent burnout, compassion fatigue or secondary traumatic stress, it is advisable to take Professional quality of life screening to assess these aspects and define directions for further work in case some problems are detected. Moreover. It is important to eliminate personal characteristics that increase the risk of burnout, compassion fatigue or secondary traumatic stress and develop the characteristics that can protect professionals from the mentioned problems.
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Bride, B.E. (2007). Prevalence of secondary traumatic stress among social workers. Social Work, 52(1), 63-70. Web.
Hecker, T., Fetz, S., Ainamani, H., & Elbert, T. (2015). The cycle of violence: Associations between exposure to violence, trauma-related symptoms and aggression-findings from Congolese refugees in Uganda. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 28(5), 448-455. Web.
Schubert, C., Schmidt, U., & Rosner, R. (2016). Posttraumatic Growth in Populations with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder-A Systematic Review on Growth-Related Psychological Constructs and Biological Variables. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 23(6), 469-486. Web.
Trippany, R., Kress, V., & Wilcoxon, S. (2004). Preventing vicarious trauma: What counselors should know when working with trauma survivors. Journal of Counseling & Development, 82(1), 31-37. Web.
Van der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score. Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Wagaman, M., Geiger, J., Shockley, C., & Segal, E. (2015). The role of empathy in burnout, compassion satisfaction, and secondary traumatic stress among social workers. Social Work, 60(3), 201-209. Web.