Combating compassion fatigue, burnout key for care coordinators, caregivers

A toy heart with a band-aid over it.

Care coordinators and caregivers should be aware of the symptoms of compassion fatigue and burnout, and take efforts to address them.

Many caregivers of wounded, ill and injured Service members, such as Recovery Care Coordinators and AW2 Advocates, as well as family members and friends, can sometimes experience what is known as compassion fatigue or burnout, which can lead to feelings of hopelessness, exhaustion, anger and depression. To help address and combat these feelings, last week’s RCC training, sponsored by the Office of Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy, included a new presentation called Resiliency 101.

Resiliency is defined as being able to deal effectively with pressure and multiple tasks while remaining optimistic and persistent even under adversity or uncertainty. Individuals who exhibit resiliency also recover quickly from setbacks, anticipate changes, and learn from mistakes.

The purpose of the presentation was to help RCCs and Advocates to recognize the signs of compassion fatigue and burnout, and to help them build a personalized self-development for addressing and dealing with it. This same information will also be available as a webinar to be held on March 28.

First, RCCs, Advocates and other caregivers should know how to recognize the signs of compassion fatigue, including burnout and secondary traumatic stress, which is when caregivers develop their own problems due to exposure to someone else’s stress. Though this is rare, it can happen to people who care for those who have experienced traumatically stressful events.

To successfully combat compassion fatigue, care coordinators should balance their time between urgent needs, such as financial and medical emergencies, pressing problems and deadline driven tasks or projects, and quality personal leadership and relationships such as managing their caseloads, conducting resource referral and coordination, and relationship building. All caregivers should avoid solving problems alone and failing to use available resources to find answers, as well as escape activities, idle conversations and “gripe sessions.”

Care coordinators should also work to develop flexibility, which allows them to accept change and rapidly adapt to new information or unexpected obstacles, as well as working to develop optimism, which is the ability to maintain a positive attitude, even in the face of adversity.

Making time for stress-reducing activities such as physical exercise, breathing techniques, meditation, and journal writing is also key. RCCs, Advocates and others should also build a network of resources and involve as many members of the Recovery Team as possible when a Service member or family is in crisis. This will help spread out the responsibility so, even if a family requires care and attention 24/7, no one person is shouldering that responsibility alone.

Finally, to help increase resiliency, care coordinators should put together a self-development or action plan that includes the following components:

  • Goal: What is the one goal you would like to work on to increase your resiliency?
  • Obstacles: What obstacles might you face in reaching your goal?
  • Options: What options or resources do you have to reach your goal?
  • Direct Action: What direct action will you take within the next week to help achieve your goal?

Having an accountability partner can help motivate care coordinators to meet their action steps and goals.

If you are an RCC or Advocate interested in learning more about resiliency, don’t forget to register for the March 28 Resiliency 101 webinar by sending an e-mail to warriorcare@osd.mil, and a member of the training team will contact you with more information.