Working Through Compassion Fatigue

theresa-hasting-450By Theresa Hasting, LMHC

You’ve given everything you had; sleepless nights making sure your son stayed in his room, missing work to ensure he went to school, constant vigilance to ensure his safety.  You’ve got him in a safe place where he is able to work on these issues.  Now what?  As we work with parents of adolescents who come to treatment, we hear so many stories of parents being at the end of their rope.  Treatment offers not only their child a chance to reset, but also a chance for parents to reset.  Before this can happen, parents express feeling exhausted, relieved, sad, guilty, and angry.

Compassion Fatigue is a term to define this state; when parents feel that they have little, if nothing left to give in offering help and support to those in need.  The work of healing from compassion burnout requires finding time for one’s self each day, creating space for healing in the family/spouse relationship, asking for and receiving support, and self compassion.  Setting realistic and reasonable goals is necessary for healing to happen in a way that honors the depth of pain parents are experiencing.

At Pacific Quest, therapists support the family through these emotions during weekly family therapy sessions.  As we work with our students on the Five Pillars of Health, we encourage parents to examine their process in keeping with these pillars through journaling exercises.  In addition, we offer parents a PQ cookbook that allows them to experience an anti-inflammatory, whole food diet – similar to what their child prepares and eats while at Pacific Quest.  In assisting parents process their emotional response, parents are provided with journal topics that focus on the family system, parenting styles, emotional awareness, and negative thought patterns. Additionally, the communication process between adolescents and their parents is slowed significantly through the letter writing process to allow the creation of emotional boundaries and help students and parents process their emotional response with others before responding.  Parents are asked to write a letter to their child and express the emotional, physical, social, and spiritual exhaustion they’ve experienced in trying to support their son or daughter.

While this process may seem daunting and it may be difficult to find time for self care and self compassion, here are a few tips to consider: take a five minute thought break, turn off the background noise (music/tv/podcast), schedule time for yourself/spouse/family, weekly review of goals and projects, close your door, journal, and meditate.

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