Wellness Wednesday: Compassion Fatigue

This is my first wellness post since the new Bar Assistance Program came into existence on April 1.  An aspect of BAP is me providing resources related to well-being in the legal profession.

Today, I intend to do so in two ways.

First, you should have Brian Cuban on your radar.  An attorney, Brian has long been a leading voice on issues related to lawyer wellness, including addiction and recovery. I recommend his book The Addicted Lawyer: Tales of the Bar, Booze, Blow and Redemption. Or, if an entire book (gasp!) isn’t your thing, I recommend Brian’s interview with Rocket Matter and this piece that he wrote for Above The Law.

Second, a few days ago on LinkedIn, Brian shared an article that appears in Canadian Lawyer: How compassion fatigue affects lawyers and what they can do about itLike Brian, compassion fatigue should be on the profession’s radar.

What is “compassion fatigue?”

The ABA has dedicated this page to the topic. Per the ABA:

“Compassion fatigue is the cumulative physical, emotional and psychological effect of exposure to traumatic stories or events when working in a helping capacity, combined with the strain and stress of everyday life.

It’s important to note that compassion fatigue is different than burnout.  While burnout is predictable, building over time and resulting in work dissatisfaction, compassion fatigue has a narrower focus.  Someone affected by compassion fatigue may be harmed by the work they do, experiencing intrusive imagery and a change in world-view.

Compassion fatigue is also known as vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress, second hand shock and secondary stress reaction.  Regardless of the term used, compassion fatigue affects those in the helping professions, including the legal profession, and is treatable. Treatment of compassion fatigue may prevent the development of a more serious disorder.”

It was only a few years ago that I first encountered compassion fatigue insofar as it relates to the legal profession. At the time, I was sitting on the Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession.  Chairing the Commission’s Judge’s Committee, then-judge Cohen raised the issue.  Then, when we published the Commission’s State Action Plan, the Judge’s Committee recommended that we “make available secondary trauma resources for judges, lawyers, court personnel and jurors.”

My sense is that compassion fatigue has spread within the profession during the pandemic.  While I’m no professional, I don’t doubt that each of us has only so much to give.  Thus, not immune to the personal stress and anxiety that has affected everyone over the past year, legal professionals may have grown weary of helping others with theirs.  Truth be told, I’ve had that exact feeling on occasion.

That’s why I think it’s important to understand that compassion fatigue is a thing.  And that it’s a thing that impacts legal professionals.

So, take a minute to review the ABA’s compassion fatigue site  or the Canadian Lawyer article that Brian shared.  Each includes tips on how to recognize the signs & symptoms of compassion fatigue, the risks of not addressing it, and steps to take in response. In particular, I’m a fan of the section in the Canadian Lawyer article sub-titled “How to combat compassion fatigue.”  It reminds me of the attempts that Jennifer Emens-Butler and I have made to remind lawyers that it’s important to find time for things other than the law.

Make time for what matters to you.  Self-compassion will help recharge your efforts to help others.

wellness

Previous Wellness Wednesday Posts

Wellness Wednesday: A message from Justice Eaton

Jessica Burke: “Well People Do”

Wellness Wednesday: Schitt$ Creek and Paddles

Wellness Wednesday: Be Kind to Lawyers

Civility Matters. Especially Now.

Coping with COVID-19 Related Stress & Anxiety

Wellness Wednesday: Unplug

Well-Being is an Aspect of Competence

Wellness Wednesday: Survival Skills

Wellness Wednesday: Make time for what (and who) matters

Wellness Wednesday: Risk & Response (this one is about the report I mentioned from the Virginia State Bar)

Do summer your way

Wellness Wednesday: Meet Alison, Shireen, Samantha, and Alison

Reach Out, Check In

Wellness Wednesday: Mentor Someone

Wellness Wednesday: Joan Loring Wing

Wellness Wednesday: Law Day & Pro Bono

Get your sleep

Take a Chance on Being Nice

Attorney Wellness: We’ve Only Just Begun

Be Kind to a Lawyer Today

Be Nice to Someone Today

Wellness v. Well-Being

Wellness Wednesday: Meet Molly Gray

Wellness Wednesday: Judge Garland & My Cousin Vinny

Shakespeare, Pink Floyd and Wellness

Wellness Wednesday: You are not an impostor

Wellness Wednesday: “N O” is “O K”

Wellness Wednesday: Stop it!

Wellness Wednesday: Meet Jeff Messina

Lawyers Helping Lawyers Part 2

Lawyers Helping Lawyers: Keep it on the front burner

Lawyer Well-Being: a call to action

Anxiety, Stress & Work-Life Balance for Lawyers

Make time for what matters

Lawyer Wellness: resolve to find 6 minutes for yourself

108 is way too many

Workplace Happiness

Make Wellness a Habit

A pledge by legal employers to focus on lawyer well-being

Legal Ethics & the Water Cooler

Wellness Wednesday: Island Vines

Wellness Wednesday: on ponds, puffery and paltering

Wellness Wednesday: Neil Diamond, the Lock Screen, and National Mental Health Day for Law Students