Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

February 1, 2013

A positive minute: Compassion fatigue

Dr. Michael Layne
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — Over the years we have heard terms such as Shell Shock or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

These are terms used to describe how one responds to a traumatic episode, usually long term, which has occurred in their life such as war or another tragic episode.

Police officers, firefighters, medical personnel, clergy and veterans often face the same type of stressors and the result of continued exposure to stress without relaxation and debriefing we call “compassion fatigue.”

One reason for “burnout” or “compassion fatigue” is that all too often there is so much pain to deal with, and over a period of time some caregivers will internalize all of the pain and suffering which they have seen. Pretty soon they begin to feel tired, weary and, here’s the big one: desensitized.

It’s important to be in touch with our emotions. When we sense that we no longer care about the way a person feels or we are not giving a person the care and attention they need, then we probably are a victim of compassion fatigue and it’s time to complete an evaluation of ourselves — beginning with the process of healing our very own life.

A nurse had pulled a tour of duty in Vietnam. Day after day, she saw the ravages of war. Where she was stationed it usually meant a quick fix of a patch and stabilization, then move the wounded soldier onto a unit where any major repairs could be done.

The nurse said that after her tour of duty she was home and looking for a job.

As an RN, she could get a job at any hospital, but she didn’t want to continue nursing.

She found a federal listing for a janitor position at the local post office. This highly skilled, well-educated then sat down with the job counselor to discuss the job.

The counselor soon realizes her education and skill level, and in his wisdom offered the following: “There’s nothing wrong with being a janitor at the post office, but I am curious as to why you would choose this position over a job in nursing?” She explained to the counselor her experience in the military and how she didn’t “feel” for the patients any longer.

The counselor recommended to the nurse that she might consider taking her expertise into the medical field as a way in which she would not have the daily care of patients, but rather teach others how to be as skillful as she is.

WOW! This counselor had great insight and wisdom as how to preserve a well-educated nurse and not lose her to another kind of job that could possibly bring discontent to her life.

Regardless of your position in life, are you experiencing emotional numbness toward those you serve?

Does a particular incident in your life continue to haunt you? Are you fatigued, stressed and have a “donâ’t care attitude?”

You may be experiencing burnout or the episodes may be moving into compassion fatigue.

Remember this: even our Lord, Jesus Christ, had to make time for relaxation. He and his disciples would go into the mountain area to get away from the ministry and needs of the people so they could refresh and be better prepared to do more when they returned.

Take time for yourself. Things will wait. Talk with someone who will spend time listening to what you have to say. Don’t make hasty decisions that will impact your future negatively.

The Most Rev. Michael Layne, PhD, ThD, is a Bishop in the Lutheran Orthodox Church and can be reached at 812-614-2160 or