Tool Can Help Prevent Compassion Fatigue or ‘Secondary Traumatic Stress’
By Stephen Spotswood
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCHORD, WA— One of the most insidious things about trauma is that its effects can spread far beyond the initial event. A traumatic event can echo and reverberate into every corner of victims’ lives, the lives of their family and friends, and, though it is not frequently acknowledged, the lives of their physicians.
Physicians treating patients with PTSD — especially psychologists and therapists who spend hours with patients helping them work through and overcome trauma — can, little by little, be overwhelmed by the stories they hear. And this can happen so slowly that physicians often do not recognize the issue begins to seriously affect their work or home life.
In recognition of this, DoD health technology specialists have engineered a new mobile application physicians will be able to access from their phones to track their own resilience as they are helping others reclaim their lives.
“While in most cases, healthcare workers don’t experience the same kind of combat-related trauma, that worker is exposed to the trauma through the retelling of the servicemember,” explained Robert Ciulla, MD, psychologist and director of the mobile health program at DoD’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2).
“They’re sitting in the same room, day after day, hour after hour, with the kind of suffering servicemembers experience. And they put the patients first and don’t think about the effect of this on themselves,” he said.
Experiencing stress from working with trauma victims is completely natural, Ciulla said. Compassion fatigue — or “secondary traumatic stress” — is common among those working with trauma victims and is characterized by a gradual lessening of compassion over time.