Staff Updates

Compassion Fatigue Program for WHC Staff

Being homeless in reallly hard work. People who are or have experienced homelessness think about and plan for things that those, like me, who have not experienced homelessness barely consider...if we do at all. Serving and caring for the homeless is also really hard work. Sometimes that is forgotten or under-recognized, not only by others, but more importantly, by the caregivers themselves.

In response to this, Women’s Housing Coalition is rolling out a program to “Care for the Caregiver”. Everyone on the Women’s Housing Coalition staff interacts with our residents at some level every day. Regardless of the amount of interaction, all staff think about the impact that their decisions, actions or inactions may have on our residents. This creates a different kind of stress than some other jobs, which can lead to “compassion fatigue”.

When this begins to manifest itself in exhaustion, insomnia, headaches and other physical and emotional issues, it is clearly not healthy for the employee. It affect all aspects of their daily life and it can manifest itself in compromised care for their clients. Issues such as declining health, absenteeism, irritability, an exaggerated sense of responsibility, forgetfulness or attrition can all be traced back to not taking care of oneself as the caregiver. When not dealt with this can result in burnout, secondary traumatization, or just plain dissatisfaction with one’s professional quality of life.

Here at the Women’s Housing Coalition, with the help of a dedicated professional volunteer, we are implementing a program that will help all of our employees learn the signs of stress and compassion fatigue. Part of the program includes learning techniques for decompressing, balancing work/personal life concerns and ensuring that people care for themselves, as well as others.

Our new program is being led by Cynthia Shaffer, a former Shock Trauma employee. Cynthia not only saw compassion fatigue in her co-workers at times, but experienced many of these issues herself toward the end of her 15 year tenure with Shock Trauma. She has now established herself as a coach with a specialty in compassion fatigue. We met Cynthia through a series of WHC events including a Junior League Fireside Chat and the FUN Committee’s Pre-Holiday Jewelry Party where she was getting a necklace as a gift for her sister. The Compassion Fatigue Program kicked off in March and will continue for six months into the fall.

So when you see a caregiver from the Women’s Housing Coalition or someone you know and love, make sure to ask them if they are caring for themselves. Just like in the airplane when they instruct you in the event of an emergency place your own mask on first so that you can then help others, we need to take care of ourselves before we can effectively help others.

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