Dr. James Bender spent 12 months as the brigade psychologist for the 4-1 CAV out of Fort Hood. He served for four and one-half years in the Army. During his deployment, he traveled through Southern Iraq, from Basra to Baghdad and many spots in between. He writes a monthly post for the DCoE Blog on mental health concerns related to deployment and being in the military.
Every once in a while, I get the chance to interact and talk with various groups related to the military and/or mental health. I had one of those chances when I moderated the February DCoE webinar, “Understanding and Overcoming Compassion Fatigue.” Every month, DCoE hosts a webinar, open to anyone, about various topics related to military psychological health and traumatic brain injury. Past topics include suicide prevention, sexual assault in the military and combating stigma related to seeking mental health treatment.
Compassion fatigue is something that can develop when providers feel overwhelmed, usually because of a heavy patient caseload or the type of trauma they treat. As a result the provider or caregiver exhibits signs of chronic stress or an extreme state of tension, which often leads to challenges when feeling compassion for his or her patients.
It’s especially common in theater, where long hours, lack of sleep and other stresses are the norm. Providers may feel that their work doesn’t matter, that patients aren’t going to get any better, or that no one values their work. Unfortunately, these feelings can affect patient care. Providers in the mental health field can be especially vulnerable because the nature of their work. Most mental health issues don’t show up in common medical exams the way a broken arm does, making them hard to diagnose. As a provider in the psychological health field, you deal with complex problems that have complex causes and solutions—which of course are different for each patient. All of these factors can contribute to compassion fatigue.
The webinar presenters, Dr. Jeffrey Rhodes and Ms. Victoria Bruner, touched on these issues and gave specific steps to take to help minimize the risk of this unique type of fatigue. Check out their entire presentation, including audio and resources, on the monthly webinar section of the DCoE Website.