After reading a Medscape article about compassion fatigue and cancer care, it seemed appropriate to bring up the topic for pelvic rehab therapists and providers. In the article, burnout is described with phrases such as overwhelming exhaustion, detachment from job, and a sense of ineffectiveness. Compassion fatigue, while being associated with burnout, is related more directly to being in a role of helper to those in distress, thereby creating tension and distress for the one giving care. Health care workers are believed to be a vulnerable group for this compassion fatigue.
Many of the pelvic rehab therapists I have met over the last decade describe the challenges of working with this rewarding, yet challenging population. Patients with chronic pelvic pain are particularly in need of a listening ear and also require a significant amount of case management, hands-on rehabilitation, and encouragement. All of these factors can lead to increased work task burden for the therapist as well as psychological burden from carrying the weight of the patient's suffering. It then becomes important to "heal the healer" as described in this family practice article.
There are some resources in place at various work sites, such as employee assistance programs that provide a few visits to a counselor, and these should be used readily as the visits are usually free to an employee. The life skill of self-care does become the responsibility of the care provider, however, and in order to take care of ourselves the basic (but difficult to achieve) balance can be maintained by good nutrition, breaks from work (not documenting through lunch), having our own social support, and getting sleep and exercise.
You can take a Compassion Fatigue self- test, or the Professional Quality of Life (ProQOL) testhere.There are resources to combat burnout, one of the latest that I've seen is a book by Joan Borysenko, PhD. Check out her book Fried: Why You Burn Out and How To Revive.Another book that is clear in practical suggestions is The Art of Extreme Self-Care by Cheryl Richardson. You may also find support within the pelvic rehab community, as the therapists who have similar jobs truly understand some of the challenges as well as the rewards of our meaningful work. It is the hope of the Pelvic Rehab Institute that therapists continue to look towards the Institute to provide such support and a sense of community.