A Report on Today’s Global Hospice Chaplain Zoom Meeting: Self-Care to combat compassion fatigue

Report by Saul Ebema, DMin.

In Today’s meeting Rev. Enoch Aguilar, the Spiritual Care Counselor at Fairmont Hospice presented on the topic of “Contentment and compassion fatigue.”He reminded us about the need for self-care. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, most hospice chaplains around the country are not making physical visits, so he encouraged us to take this moment for self-care.

The calling to ministry and to counseling the terminally ill is a calling to compassion. Yet our capacity for compassion, along with the intensity of counseling the terminally ill can, at times, leave us vulnerable to compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue has been defined as a combination of physical, emotional, and spiritual depletion associated with caring for patients in significant emotional pain and physical distress. It can be cumulative (from the effects helping many patients) or occur in response to a particularly challenging or traumatic individual case. This extreme state of anxiety and preoccupation with the suffering of the patient becomes traumatizing for the chaplain.

All the meeting participants agreed that the hospice chaplain’s work thrives within the context of a caring, empathetic relationship between chaplain and patient. However, this necessary empathetic relationship can also contribute to compassion fatigue if conscious steps are not taken to avoid and/or lessen this condition.

This led to a talk on self-compassion. Dr. Charles James Parker, the Lead Chaplain for Palladium Hospice and Palliative spoke about his research on self-compassion- He stated that the three elements of self-compassion are mindfulness, self-kindness, and common humanity.

Self-compassion is best defined as the extension of compassion towards one’s self during times of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering (Neff, 2003a)

Some of the steps hospice chaplains can take towards self-compassion and to combat compassion fatigue include;

Learning mindfulness meditation. This is an excellent way to ground yourself in the moment and keep your thoughts from pulling you in different directions. The ability to reconnect with God will also help you achieve inner balance and can produce an almost miraculous turnaround, even when your world seems its blackest.

Recharging your batteries daily. This can be as simple as committing to eat better. A regular exercise regimen can reduce stress, help you achieve outer balance and re-energize you for time with family and friends.

It is vital for Hospice chaplains to become knowledgeable about compassion fatigue symptoms and intervention strategies and to develop a personal plan of care so as to avoid it and achieve a healthy work-life balance.

Unrecognized and untreated compassion fatigue causes people to leave their profession, fall into the throws of addictions or in extreme cases become self-destructive or commit suicide. It is important that hospice chaplains understand this phenomenon for their own well-being, but also for providing quality counseling to the dying and the bereaved.

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