Addressing & Combatting Compassion Fatigue
As a community, we are supporting one another during a difficult time, one often marked by local and global crises that unfold at such an unforgiving pace we are unable to fully handle one event before gathering strength to confront the next. We as helping professionals are often called upon to support healing amidst instances of unimaginable violence, human loss, and grief. This often-cyclical nature can make finding time to reacclimate or find our own footing difficult.
There are significant differences between the role of the individual instructor (being a trusted mentor for students), and the role of the institution (creating a well-resourced educational environment for learners and instructors) as we work together to promote a culture that offsets compassion fatigue. Robust administrative support, resourcing, and staffing are all foundational to practicing a healing-centered approach at the institutional level. They are also critical tools for assisting instructors in the practice of self-care, and implementing appropriate limits to offset the effects of compassion fatigue and avoid burnout.
When to Use
Sustainable work/life engagement, self-care, implementing compassionate boundaries, asking for support, self-reflection, avoiding burnout
How to Use
- OFFICIALLY DOCUMENT IMPACTS: Consider implementing a system for faculty to document adverse impacts. This is particularly important as we begin the recovery process from the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to account for ways faculty across all tracks shouldered an increased workload, had their projects and professional trajectories derailed, and faced unprecedented challenges and personal impacts, it is critical that we seek to make invisible labor visible, and look to value the changes that were made. For tools that can help to support, rather than penalize, faculty into the coming years, consider this guide from UMass Amherst to help your unit strategize how best to recognize the differential impacts, and proactively mitigate against unequal outcomes.
- HOST A WORKSHOP: The Health & Counseling Center offers workshops on a unit-basis, that can be customized to fit audience needs on a variety of topics including: suicide prevention, an overview of the health & counseling centers, issues concerning students of marginalized identities (e.g, LGBTQIA, international students, students of color), trauma-informed leadership and survivor support, and stress and mental health. Schedule a workshop for your faculty and staff here.
- NORMALIZE BREAKS & ENDORSE FLEXIBILITY: Consider what meaningful flexibility would look like as a means to promote pro-active wellness. Recognize that in times of heightened strain and community stress, we may not be afforded our normal periods of recovery—and without explicitly budgeting for periods of rest, we run the risk of the type of compounding exhaustion which leads to burnout. In this article from Ed Surge, Kevin McClure explores a few actions department leadership can take including: talking openly about burnout and prevention, proactively simplify department commitments and encourage staff to cut-back average workloads to pursue wellness, destigmatize flexibility and give people permission to take a break.
- PAUSE-RESET-NOURISH TOOLS (Cueller, et al. 2020): All of us face a variety of stresses daily. Gauging your level of distress is as important as practicing self-care strategies. The PRN framework is one such strategy and reminds us of the types of practices that help promote wellbeing and enhance resilience. You can Pause-Reset- Nourish to help replenish yourself when needed. These practices can help to reset and rebalance your nervous systems, and can be done frequently throughout each day in just a few minutes. Click here to download a PDF poster of the PRN tool.
- COUNSELING SERVICES: All University of Denver employees are eligible for the Employee Assistance Program, which grants up to six free counseling sessions per year. Additional counseling services can be obtained through our Health and Counseling Center, as well as through the Trauma and Disaster Recovery Clinic or Professional Psychology Clinic. External counseling services are also available throughout the community, and can be found via the Counseling Center Referral Service’s (CCRS) comprehensive web-based platform.
- CRISIS SERVICES FOR STUDENTS:
- SOS REFERAL TREE: When a student in distress has been identified, the Quick Referral Guide provides a simplified overview of the University of Denver student support offices. The Stoplight System gives detailed support information, and indicates whether an issue is outside of a faculty or staff member's ability to provide support. You can submit a referral here.
- RED FOLDER: The purpose of the Red Folder is to help you to recognize some of the signs of students in distress, be supportive of their needs and facilitate referrals to the appropriate resources on campus, as well as increasing your awareness of the Student Outreach & Support online Referral System. The Red Folder also provides important information about The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the reporting requirements for Title IX and information on sexual assault resources.
Alvarez, L., Gentile-Mathew, A., Iturbe-LaGrave, V. (2021). Teaching Tools. Inclusive Teaching Practices, University of Denver Office of Teaching & Learning.
Cuellar, R., Rains, M., Hendricks, A., Hirsh-Wright, A., Valenti, S, Grosso, C., Louie, K. & Brymer M. (2020). Pause – Reset – Nourish (PRN)* to Promote Wellbeing: Use as Needed to Care for Your Wellness! Los Angeles, CA, and Durham, NC: National Center for Child Traumatic Stress.