A spiritual look at compassion fatigue among African American Clergy and Counselors
Dr. Charles Figley of Tulane University describes compassion fatigue as;
“Compassion Fatigue is a state experienced by those helping people in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.”
Although there are no real statistics that verify there are racial variants in compassion fatigue some works site that African Americans are potentially more susceptible to compassion fatigue, therefore this article is written preemptively. Part of the reason is that African American clergy and counselors tend to be more engaged in their communities, especially in impoverished and gang infested areas.
One of the first scientifically referenced articles on Compassion fatigue was in 1907 by Carl G. Jung in “The Psychology of Dementia Praecox,” where he discussed the challenges of countertransference or secondary trauma. J. Eric Gentry, Ph.D.’s article entitled “Compassion Fatigue, a crucible of transformation,” states that as this syndrome progresses the desire for intimate and collegial connections begin to diminish as caregivers become more prone to isolation. There is also an overwhelming fearful perception of being labeled feeble or incompetent by their peers.
Compassion fatigue can sometimes be confused with burnout although the treatment and identification can be similar the diagnostic definition is quite different. Burnout is an emotional or physical collapse related to overwork or stressful conditions. It is progressive and foreseeable, and it can be generally alleviated by a vacation or changes in job functions. One of the main causes of burnout is being out of sync with your ministry or practice. Six areas have been identified that a ministry or practice can be out of sync; workload, control, reward, fairness, community, and values.
On the other hand, Compassion Fatigue is a prolonged state of stress and fixation with the trauma of the people they serve. When the caregiver tends to care more for a client rather than exercising self-care destructive behaviors can emerge. Also, there are heightened feelings of constantly giving without a return.
Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Therefore, we must understand that just because we have labeled this syndrome as Compassion Fatigue it is not new only the nomenclature has been altered. As Christian counselors or clergy, it is imperative that we use the Bible as our road map in dealing with the spiritual reasons for compassion fatigue. The Bible is where we can find our causes and solutions. I believe that the underlying condition of the counselor or clergy is the preeminent factor in determining how susceptible we are to this syndrome. It is the stability of a caregiver’s emotional and spiritual health that will enable them to develop a higher level of defense against compassion fatigue.
Written by Yvonne Camper