I’m always full of questions, but lately these are at the top of my mind:

Who benefits when we don’t ask the right questions? And how does this potentially uphold the status quo?

Here’s what I mean: have you ever questioned why everyone is so focused on self-care as the solution for compassion fatigue?

Who does it benefit when self-care is the ONLY way we’re taught to manage this predictable byproduct of our work?

The answer is simple:

The message staff gets is: If you don’t take care of yourself, it’s your fault that you have compassion fatigue.

That’s just not accurate.

To be clear, self-care IS critically important and it’s the foundation of everything I teach (because no one can take care of you for you. Sorry, no one is coming to save your ass).

I love the pants off of self-care.

But, all the self-care in the world won’t matter if:

– You have a job description that has no boundaries (how many people would it really take to accomplish everything that’s been assigned to you?) and you never have time off to DO self-care.

– Or you work in an unsafe environment (physically and/or psychologically) with low pay, no benefits, and you’re treated like an unskilled, expendable resource. “Churn and burn” baby!

– Or you have toxic coworkers and you don’t feel safe asking for help. Or a cruel boss that tells you that if you “really loved animals”, you wouldn’t need to take a break.

When organizations focus ONLY on self-care as the solution for compassion fatigue, then they get to blame staff for having compassion fatigue and wash their hands of this complex issue.

Organizations have a responsibility to create a healthy, ethical work environment where individual self-care efforts are supported and strengthened by the organization’s efforts to treat their staff like the valuable resource they are through: education, mentoring and supervision, fair policies, healthy boundaries and time off, safe equipment, appreciation, conflict resolution, mental health benefits, adequate pay, and trauma-informed support.

I’m not saying it’s easy or that organizations can make these changes overnight, but they’ve got to step up to the plate.

Addressing CF isn’t just an altruistic move. It benefits the organizations when they tackle one of the root causes of expensive issues like turnover and presenteeism.

If we want to address compassion fatigue effectively – which benefits everyone –  then we always need to be looking at this issue from the individual AND the organizational level.

The researchers backs that up. Self-care alone isn’t enough.

Self-care is necessary, but it’s insufficient on its own.

So if anyone tells you that self-care is the be all, end all of compassion fatigue management, just ask them: who does that benefit?

Psst, just one more time for the folks in the back…you still have to do self-care, just be sure to examine the systems you’re in too!

2 Comments on Is Self-Care Letting Organizations Off The Hook?

  1. Ah, Jessica…what a timely article! Thank you! My shelter is now offering your online, self-paced Compassion in Balance course to all staff (free to the staff) and that’s wonderful! Many staff seem to be benefiting from it. But–as your article points out, when an organization focuses ONLY on self-care as the solution for compassion fatigue, it’s not enough. I keep hoping things will change and that the organization’s management will also begin developing more support strategies and mentoring, etc… fair policies…better scheduling…i could go on (but won’t)! At least your online course has given some staff the courage to take care of themselves enough to make the decision to move on, and find other jobs. Others have found the strength and ability to stay, which is wonderful too. Thank you SO much, as always, for all you do for us!

    • Thank YOU, as always, for all you do. I’m glad the class is helping people to make the right choice for them (whatever that choice may be). If you could pick ONE thing for your organization to focus on next, what would it be? What do you think would have the biggest impact?

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