Friday, 14 January 2005 - 8:00 AM

This presentation is part of: Occupational Stress in Social Work

Compassion Fatigue, Compassion Satisfaction, and Burnout Among Employee Assistance Program Counselors

Jodi M. Jacobson, PhD, Towson University.

Purpose: Compassion fatigue and related constructs have not been empirically studied among Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselors. Prior research in the area of secondary traumatic stress has focused on psychotherapists and emergency services personnel. EAP counselors, many of whom are social workers, are often the first mental health professional to hear a client’s traumatic story through initial assessment and short-term counseling, as well as often being the first mental health professional to respond to workplace critical incidents and subsequently exposed to secondary trauma. Compassion fatigue among mental health counselors has been identified as an ‘occupational hazard’ and has been linked to negative psychological outcomes for the therapists as well as the client. This study assessed the prevalence and severity of compassion fatigue, along with burnout and potential for compassion satisfaction, among EAP counselors. This study also explored the relationships between individual and work-related characteristics as they predict or mediate EAP counselors’ reactions to working with traumatized individuals and groups.

Methods: A random sample of 325 EAP counselors (45.5% response rate) from across the United States, was surveyed using an anonymous mailed questionnaire during summer 2003. Of these counselors, 40% reported receiving their master’s degree in social work. Counselors were asked to respond to demographic questions, standardized measures, and additional questions about their clinical practice.

Results: Results indicated that EAP counselors, on average, reported experiencing moderate levels of risk for compassion fatigue, low levels of risk for burnout, and high levels of potential for compassion satisfaction. A predictive model based on theory and existing research was developed for this study to predict risk for compassion fatigue and burnout and potential for compassion satisfaction. Subsequent multiple regressions were completed using the model for each of the outcome variables of interest. The results indicated that the predictive model, including coping style, was able to account for 21.5% of the total variance for risk for compassion fatigue; 30.7% of the total variance for risk for burnout; and 35.1% of the total variance for potential for compassion satisfaction. In addition to coping style (positive and negative), additional significant predictors included whether of not the counselor’s reported a personal trauma history, whether or not the counselors reported experiencing work-related stress resulting from working with traumatized individuals in the past year, the total number of critical incident stress debriefing offered, and training to offer critical incident stress management services.

Implications: Implications for social workers and other helping professionals in terms of prevention and early intervention are suggested. The research identified several predictive factors related to compassion fatigue, burnout, and compassions satisfaction. Of particular importance, was coping style, which will be discussed in terms of measurement and implications for self-care. Additional research implications to help build and develop theory related to compassion fatigue, burnout, and compassion satisfaction will be discussed.

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