How Survivor Advocates Can Avoid Burnout

Secondary traumatic stress can affect those who help for a living

There are few things more rewarding than being able to provide the type of support and assistance to change, and maybe even save someone’s life. It’s easy to become invested in your clients’ safety, success, and well-being; often their joys and victories become yours. However, so can their despair and trauma.

“There are always certain cases you’ll feel more of an attachment to than others,” says Ambroes Pass-Turner, Ed.D., a clinically certified domestic violence counselor with a doctorate in counseling psychology. “We have a tendency to take it home with us even though we try not to.”

It can be called secondary trauma, burnout or compassion fatigue and can cause those providing assistance to people in crisis varying levels of the trauma of their own. It is not uncommon for advocates to experience symptoms of guilt, hopelessness, anger, irritability, sleeplessness, exhaustion, fear and social withdrawal after working with clients in crisis. This can often lead to career burnout.

To avoid the effects of burnout, be vigilant about these tips:

Be realistic. No one person, yourself included, will ever be able to end domestic violence forever. Don’t expect to do so. “It’s important to realize what you’re doing is necessary, but you have to find a balance,” says Eric Quarles, Ph.D., a criminal justice expert.

Set boundaries. Smartphones and our 24/7 culture make turning work off difficult, but you have to do it for your own sake. “When you leave your workplace, try to leave your work there,” Pass-Turner says.

Take care of your physical self. Physical health and mental health go hand in hand. Eat a balanced diet, get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day, don’t sacrifice sleep and go to the doctor regularly for checkups and screenings. The better you take care of yourself, the better you’ll be able to care for your clients.

Collaborate. Because much of the job is one-on-one, it’s easy to get stuck working in a vacuum, which can feel isolating. “I find it very helpful to talk with colleagues about what’s going on in certain cases,” Pass-Turner says. “I’m always asking ‘What am I missing?’ You never know what kinds of ideas or feedback you’ll get.”

Make new friends. It’s good to have colleagues to rely on and relate to, but they shouldn’t make up your entire social circle. “Expanding your social circle beyond your current profession is one of the first steps to being able to decompress,” Quarles says. It will help get your mind off work.

If you are wondering if you’re close to burnout, assess yourself with the Professional Quality of Life measure.

Recharge, Rejuvenate and Renew

A mind, body, and spirit cleanse for survivors and advocates.

Increased body toxins can occur as a result of things we consume, such as air, food, water and chemicals. Stress, anxiety, sadness and other emotions experienced by domestic violence survivors can also increase body toxins.

Mixed opinions on the impact of toxins and the importance of cleansing the body of toxins abound. However, some believe detoxification can recharge, rejuvenate and renew the mind, body and spirit, and play a role in a survivor’s restoration.

Regardless of which side of the debate you’re on, one thing that isn’t debatable is that the healing process for a survivor should involve a personalized recovery plan. You should do what works best for you, and body cleansing—or detoxification—may be an option to explore.

When you hear about cleansing these days, it is often talked about in the context of a brief change in diet. While that works for some, there are other activities you can put into play to produce a more holistic experience to create improved balance, harmony and total well-being.

For Your Mind

Meditation. Research has shown that meditation can reduce levels of stress and promote well-being. The primary goal of meditation is to obtain inner peace, which can be achieved by learning to quiet your mind. If you are a beginner, you may want to try guided meditations—listening to a recorded voice that helps you visualize images in your mind to help you relax and quiet the chatter in your mind. This can also help you to eliminate unhealthy thoughts and feelings.

For Your Body

External cleansing. Due to the many chemicals used in soap and cosmetic products on the market today, look for those containing natural ingredients. What you put on your body is absorbed through your skin and into your blood stream. EWG (Environmental Working Group) is a non-profit organization that has a large database of consumer products which contain toxic ingredients. Research the ingredients in the products you are using.

Internal Cleansing. There are natural ways to do an internal body cleanse without having to purchase expensive products from health food stores or websites. The Livestrong Foundation notes that a diet that emphasizes certain foods (e.g., fruits, vegetables, organic to limit pesticide exposure, and raw preparations to keep the fiber and nutrients intact) and eliminates others (e.g., caffeine, refined sugars and flours, alcohol, saturated fat and processed foods) can help achieve the objective. Also, it is important to drink plenty of water, which naturally cleanses the body.

For Your Spirit

Elements of Nature: Connecting with nature allows you to release stress. With summer upon us, it’s a good time to enjoy the outdoors. Water hydrates the body and cleanses it internally and externally. Consider submerging yourself in a nearby ocean, lake or river; participating in water sports; or just enjoy the tranquility each offers. Camping and hiking, or even something as simple as walking barefoot through the grass and feeling the coolness of the earth beneath your feet, can work.

When cleansing holistically, keep in mind that it is a process. Therefore you are not limited to the length of time you remain on a cleanse. You can practice these methods at your own pace to experience total well-being as you recover from the after-effects of abuse and live a happier, healthier life.