PTSD, Compassion Fatigue and Burnout

In honor of PTSD-awareness month, we at Heroes and Horses wanted to discuss some common challenges of caring for those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including clinicians themselves.

Though PTSD, secondary traumatic stress (STS, also known as compassion fatigue), and burnout are separate conditions; they can be, and often are co-occurring disorders.  Those with pre-existing PTSD can be more susceptible to burnout, STS, and compassion fatigue, particularly when working with or serving others who have had similar traumatic experiences.  For example: a therapeutic foster care (TFC) parent who chooses not to care for children who have experienced the same type of trauma she/he has.  Similar trauma can be a strong trigger for TFC parents, but knowing this; foster parents can avoid taking placements accordingly.  All mental health clinicians and first-responders can experience STS, compassion fatigue, or burnout from counseling and caring for those with severe trauma.  Additionally, clinicians with pre-existing PTSD can be more likely to suffer burnout sooner in their careers: particularly if they have not sought treatment for their PTSD.

Any clinician who has cared for those with severe trauma can most likely tell us that “compassion fatigue …represents the cost of caring both about, and for traumatized people” (R. Thompson, 2003).  Vital questions to assess and address STS in ourselves as clinicians are: do I have STS?; am I starting to show signs of burnout?; what are the signs of burnout and STS?; what will happen to my practice and to me if I do not address my STS and/or my pre-existing PTSD?  All competent clinicians (hopefully) practice self-care on a regular basis as part of their daily routines.  How do we know when our self-care routine isn’t enough?

Thankfully, Heroes and Horses has a solution.  While there are self-help books written on this topic, and of course, each clinician should seek individual therapy as needed: Heroes and Horses offers a healing Burnout Retreat where clinicians can gather, connect, learn, heal, plan, and implement vital self-care regimens that will extend their healthy years of practice well into the future.

Erica Muse, LMSW, MAT, Equine, Inpatient, Outpatient, and In-Home Therapuetic Foster Care Therapist