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COMPASSION FATIGUE IN SCHOOL COUNSELORS Caring for the Caregivers. Presented By: Dr. Rosine Dougherty Associate Professor Argosy University- Sarasota Counseling Educator: School Counseling Director of Training. OUR REALITY AS PROFESSIONAL SCHOOL COUNSELORS.

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compassion fatigue in school counselors caring for the caregivers

Presented By:

Dr. Rosine Dougherty

Associate Professor

Argosy University- Sarasota

Counseling Educator: School Counseling

Director of Training

our reality as professional school counselors
  • Nearly 1 in 10 high school students reported being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property.
  • 1 in 3 high school students reported involvement in a physical fight.

(NCES 2013)

school survey on crime safety 2010
  • In 2009–10, about 74 percent of public schools recorded one or more violent incidents, 16 percent recorded one or more serious violent incidents, and 44 percent recorded one or more thefts. Approximately 1 in 16 high school students reported carrying a weapon on school property. (NCES 2013)
  • During the 2009–10 school year, 85 percent of public schools recorded that one or more of these incidents of violence, theft, or other crimes had taken place, amounting to an estimated 1.9 million crimes.
  • This figure translates to a rate of approximately 40 crimes per 1,000 students enrolled in 2009–10. During the same year, 60 percent of schools reported one of the specified crimes to the police, amounting to about 689,000 crimes—or 15 crimes per 1,000 students enrolled.

U.S.Department of Education. (2011). Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools: Findings From the School Survey on Crime and Safety: 2009–10 First Look (NCES 2011-320).

violence in our schools
Violence in our Schools
  • April 20, 1999, Columbine, 12 students, 1 teacher were killed and 24 others wounded
  • April 17, 2007, Virginia Tech mass shooting leaving 33 dead and 26 wounded
  • February 14, 2007, Northern Illinois University, 5 students were killed and 16 wounded
  • February 27, 2012, Chardon HS, in Ohio 3 students killed, 1 in wheelchair
  • April 2, 2012, Oikos University, Oakland, CA , 7 killed (3rd deadliest)
  • December 14, 2012, Sandy Hook Elementary, 26 killed
but that s not all

Millions of other occurrences happen in our schools yearly: student suicides, family deaths, and natural disasters.

  • Mass joblessness causing homelessness
  • Soldiers returning from war with PTSD: spouses and children of soldiers also developing PTSD
school counselors roles
School Counselors’ Roles

We are quite aware of the daily challenges we face as practicing PSCs, but when these duties are combined with long-term crisis response, these additional stressors are linked to work related dissatisfaction in the profession, burnout and compassion fatigue.

(Caro, 2007; Rayle, 2006)

so let s define a few things burnout

Freudenberger first coined the term “burnout” in 1974; burnout has been identified in all professions. This widespread problem causes frustration, stress, reduced personal accomplishment, emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, personal dysfunction such as diminished mental and physical health.

(Belcastro, 1982; Collins & Long, 2003; Farber, 1991; Lowenstein, 1991; Maslach & Jackson, 1986; Morrissette, 2000; Pierson-Hubeny & Archambault, 1987; Pierce & Molloy, 1990)


Burnout in school counselors has been well documented. As roles, student caseloads and duties have increased, school counselors have become stressed, emotionally overextended and drained. This exhaustion leads to burnout and impacts counselors’ effectiveness.

(Butcke, & McIann, 1984; Freeman & Coll, 1997; Kendrick,, 1994; Lieberman, 2004; Morrissette, 2000; NCES, 2007; Rayle, 2006; Sears & Navin, 1983; Vail, 2005; Wilkerson & Bellini, 2006).

lambie study on burnout with pscs
Lambie Study on Burnout with PSCs

Lambie (2007) identified several correlations when school counselors are working at low levels of burnout:

  • There is evidence that there is a negative correlation between burnout and ego functioning.
  • The higher the level of occupational support the lower degree of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization.
  • The number of years as a professional counselor, the ability to multi-task successfully, occupational support and one’s belief in personal accomplishment all were significant factors.
but burnout is not necessarily traumatic

“According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV-TR (DSM-IV) a traumatic event occurs when a person directly experiences an event or witnesses an event that involves

  • an actual or threatened death,
  • serious injury,
  • a threat to one’s physical integrity,
  • the physical integrity of another person

or the person learns about an unexpected or violent death, serious harm, or threat of death or injury experienced by a family member of close friend”

(APA, 2000, cited in Caro, 2007, p.27).

secondary traumatic stress or secondary traumatization or vicarious traumatization
Secondary Traumatic Stress or Secondary Traumatization orVicarious Traumatization
  • Secondary traumatic stress is defined as the “natural consequent behaviors and emotions resulting from knowing about a traumatizing event experienced by a significant other; the stress resulting from helping or wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person.” (Figley, 1995, p. 7)
  • “Like primary trauma reactions, secondary trauma may disturb the worker’s ability to think clearly, to modulate emotions, to feel effective, or to maintain hope”(Figley, 1995, p. 416).
posttraumatic stress disorder ptsd
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

“Posttraumatic Stress affects individuals differently but is identified by three categories of symptoms:

  • 1) intrusive thoughts, images & sensations
  • 2) avoidance of people, places, things and experiences which elicit memories of the traumatic experience
  • 3) negative arousal in the forms of hypervigilance, sleep disturbances, irritability an anxiety.”

(Gentry, Baranowsky & Dunning, 1997, para 7)

so then what is compassion fatigue

“Compassion fatigue is a comprehensive term encompassing the concepts of secondary trauma, secondary traumatic stress, vicarious traumatization, and adding the components of cumulative stress, intrusion, avoidance and hypervigilance” (Figley, 2002; as cited in Caro, p. 44).

conceptional differences compassion fatigue vs burnout
CONCEPTIONAL DIFFERENCES Compassion Fatigue vs Burnout

While both compassion fatigue and burnout are comprehensive terms that can affect many different professions, compassion fatigue seems to address helping professionals that work in the field of trauma or trauma-related situations.

(Abendroth & Flanery, 2006; Agulera, 1995; Agresta, 2006; Beavan & Stephens, 1999; Collins & Long, 2003; Figley, 2002; Frank & Karioth, 2006)

  • Burnout is not a natural consequence within a profession. It occurs when emotional resources are depleted, negative attitudes toward others build, the feeling of being unsuccessful increases. The counselor becomes unmotivated and detached.
  • CF can be a natural consequence within the helping professions.
  • Counselors with CF will still maintain a positive attitude about their work.

(McCann & Pearlman, 1990)

Red Cross volunteer and victim, Judy Opsahl visits her devastated home in Los Alamos, NMAssociated Press Photo
while the event may be instantaneous there may be need for long term intervention
  • Even though the initial tragedy may be over, the need for long-term intervention may continue for days, months or years.
  • For school counselors, these interventions may not just be during the school year, but continue throughout the summer months and continue for years.
not a problem i can deal with it i am trained
  • Denial is one of the most detrimental symptoms of Compassion Fatigue and Life Stress. It can easily hinder your ability to assess the level of fatigue and stress in your life as well as thwart your efforts to begin the healing process. (Smith, 2013)
  • A survey of emergency response personnel reported “86.9% symptoms of CF after exposure to highly distressing events with traumatized people” . . .
  • (Babbel, 2012 , Somatic Psychology)
so how do we know
  • “If counselors are taught to understand that CF symptoms sometimes result from counseling traumatized individuals, they will be more likely to prepare themselves for prevention of its symptoms” (para. 12).
  • “Additionally, if counselors are able to assess the development of compassion fatigue, they will be more apt to seek assistance and collaborate with peers and supervisors when in distress” (para. 13).

(Simpson & Starkey, 2006)

dangers of having cf
  • While PSCs are admired and honored for their enduring work, courage and dedication, they may put their students at special risk for harmfully or incorrectly applying counseling techniques or making poor decisions because of their exhaustion and inattentiveness due to CF.
recognizing symptoms of cf
Recognizing Symptoms of CF
  • Free Floating or misplaced anger
  • Low self-esteem
  • Increased irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Workaholism
  • Depression
  • Chronic tardiness
  • Substance abuse (food, alcohol, drugs)
  • Hypertension
  • Frequent headaches
  • Hypervigilance
still in denial take a test to be sure
  • The following three tests were designed to help you recognize symptoms of Compassion Fatigue and Life Stress in your life. While they will never replace a qualified medical diagnosis, they may help you determine if you need to seek further assistance.
  •  (CFAP,,2013)
  • Professional Quality of Life (ProQoL) Self-Test
  • Compassion Fatigue Self-Test: An Assessment
  • Life Stress Self-Test
additional assessments for cf
  • Compassion Satisfaction/Fatigue Self Test (Stamm & Figley, 1998)
  • Trauma Recovery Scale (Gentry, 1998)
  • Silencing Response Scale (Baranowsky, 1998)
  • Global Check Set (GCS) (Baranowsky & Gentry, 1998)
  • Index of Clinical Stress (Abel, 1991)
  • Life Status Review Questionnaire ( Stamm & Rudolph, 1997)
  • Compassion Fatigue Scale –Revised (Figley, 1995; Baranowsky & Gentry, 1997)
  • Compassion Fatigue Self-Test (Figley, 1998)
  • Solution-Focused Trauma Recovery Scale (Gentry, 1997)
so how do we cope self care strategies



  • Make time for quiet meditation, eat well and EXERCISE
  • Increase social support
  • Maintain task-focused behaviors – use problem-solving skills, focus on tasks at hand, do not fixate on long-term implications
  • Increase emotional distancing – protect from being overwhelmed; block emotions during the event and utilize relaxation techniques; do not look at faces
  • Use cognitive self-talk – be mentally prepared, focus on positive aspects; prepare physically, take deep breaths, focus on staying in control
  • Feel better using altruism – Work for those who may not be as “strong” ; it feels good to help others; persevere and draw strength from adversity.

(Thompson, 2003)

helping others cope with cf
  • Teachers, administrators and staff also suffer from workplace stress, burnout and even compassion fatigue when dealing with trauma within the school or community.
  • School counselors are on the “front lines” to be proactive to help school personnel. They have a daily school-wide perspective.
  • Counselors are expected to demonstrate and teach stress-reducing strategies in times of crisis.

(Moracco & McFadden, 1982)

helping others cope with cf1
  • Strategies for helping faculty & staff: (Thompson, 2003)
    • Routine visits by other mental health professionals
    • Seek out families who may need assistance
    • Be alert to misplaced anger – trivial events become huge
    • Give faculty & staff systematic public recognition for important support they provide during the traumatic event
    • Debrief on a routine basis – reinforce they are having “normal reactions to an abnormal event”
    • Reassure there is no ideal way to handle a traumatic event
    • Promote counseling support groups
compassion satisfaction the silver lining and positive effects of cf
COMPASSION SATISFACTIONThe Silver Lining and Positive Effects of CF

Schauben and Frazier’s (1995) data revealed that counselors identified 4 positive personal affirmations concerning compassion satisfaction:

  • 1. The joy of watching clients change and grow. They liked being part of the positive process when their clients went from victim to survivor.
  • 2. Counselors liked being part of the healing process. Helping their clients gave counselors a boost of satisfaction and impacted counselors positively.
  • 3. Counselors enjoyed witnessing the resilience, strength and creativity of their clients.
  • 4. Counselors found that their own personal growth and change was due to their clients’ challenges.
organizations and training

Public Entity Risk Institute (PERI)

PERI provides training materials in cooperation with ASCA called The Human Side of School Crises

compassion fatigue awareness project http www compassionfatigue org
Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project
  • CFAP is dedicated to educating caregivers about authentic, sustainable self-care and aiding organizations in their goal of providing healthy, compassionate care to those whom they serve.
  • Compassion Satisfaction: 50 steps to Healthy Caregiving
  • To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving

both by Patricia Smith (Kindle)

have the courage to take care of you the power of self compassion

Self-compassion is defined as having 3 main components, self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

  • Self-kindness refers to the tendency to be caring and understanding with oneself rather than being harshly critical or judgmental.
  • Common humanity involves recognizing that all humans are imperfect, fail and make mistakes.
  • Mindfulness involves being aware of one's painful feelings in a clear and balanced manner so that one neither ignores nor obsesses about disliked aspects of oneself or one's life
  • (Neff, 2011, The Power of Self-Compassion,
  • Abendroth, M., & Flannery, J. (2006). Predicting the risk of compassion fatigue: A study
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references cont d
References, cont’d
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references cont d2
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