Ariann Evans Robino
Explanations of compassion fatigue generally consider the client–counselor relationship as the primary source of challenges to wellness. Because of the nature of the current sociopolitical climate and the increased exposure through media, the counseling profession should consider expanding the influences on compassion fatigue related to current events. This article introduces the concept of global compassion fatigue (GCF), a phenomenon that provides an opportunity for counselor self-awareness. Implications for adopting GCF into the counselor impairment literature include understanding how global events impact counselor development and clinical practice as well as the importance of maintaining a wellness lifestyle to protect against its effects. Counselors’ involvement in advocacy and social justice are also explored as contributors to GCF.
Keywords: global compassion fatigue, counselor impairment, advocacy, self-awareness, wellness
Counselors and counselors-in-training (CITs) feel the weight of societal stressors. According to the ACA Code of Ethics, “promoting social justice” (American Counseling Association [ACA], 2014, p. 3) is a core value of the counseling profession. Furthermore, because of its impact on the profession, scholars have declared social justice as the fifth force in counseling (Ratts, 2009; Ratts, D’Andrea, & Arredondo, 2004). Representatives from ACA have acted in accordance by addressing the federal government’s recent prohibition of specific language associated with diverse populations (Yep, 2017) as well as releasing a statement of support shortly after the 2016 presidential election calling on all counselors to remain strong in their beliefs and actively assist those in need (Roland, 2016). Similarly, the closing keynote speaker at ACA’s Illuminate Symposium on June 10, 2017, Dr. Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy, encouraged attendees to take action against human rights offenses through vocal opposition in multiple settings, including social media (Meyers, 2017). These positions demonstrate the desired role of counselors to engage in advocacy and activism for global issues.
Natural disasters, threats to civil rights, violence, terrorist attacks, and animal welfare concerns are simply a few of the powerful issues that humans face as highly social and emotional beings. Although advocacy is one avenue of handling the emotional unrest related to these events, the complex nature of counselors’ personal and professional identities presents an invitation to consider these sensitive issues currently faced by society. Professional counselor identity allows counselors to make meaning of their work during these times of strong emotion (Solomon, 2007). Considering how these events affect both counselors’ and CITs’ personal lives and clinical practice produces opportunities for counselor professional development and greater self-awareness. The purpose of this article is to explore global compassion fatigue (GCF), a phenomenon related to the human condition and how global events impact professional counselors and other helpers. This article begins with a review of current counselor impairment concepts as well as the role of wellness in managing these conditions. Then, the reader is introduced to GCF and how a review of the literature supports the examination of this new concept. Next, I provide a detailed conceptualization of the phenomenon and implications for the field. Finally, suggestions for future research are provided.
Understanding Compassion Fatigue
Compassion fatigue research spans the literature of multiple disciplines, including nursing, social work, and counseling (Compton, Todd, & Schoenberg, 2017; Lynch & Lobo, 2012; Sorenson, Bolick, Wright, & Hamilton, 2016). Counselors typically understand compassion fatigue as an event occurring as a result of counselor–client interaction. Charles Figley (1995) first defined the concept of compassion fatigue as “a state of exhaustion and dysfunction—biologically, psychologically, and socially—a result of prolonged exposure to companion stress and all that it evokes” (p. 253) and conceptualized it as a response to the emotional demands of hearing and witnessing stories of pain and suffering. Symptoms of compassion fatigue include re-experiencing the client’s traumatic event, avoidance of reminders of the event and/or feeling numb to those reminders, and persistent arousal (Figley, 1995). Researchers carefully note the differences between compassion fatigue, vicarious traumatization, and burnout (Lawson & Venart, 2005; Meadors, Lamson, Swanson, White, & Sira, 2010). Vicarious traumatization, defined as a significant altering of cognitive schemas and a disruption of an individual’s sense of identity, worldview, and meaning, occurs as a result of empathic engagement with the traumatic experiences of a client (McCann & Pearlman, 1990). Vicarious traumatization symptoms involve a more covert change in thought and cognitive schema rather than an observable experiencing of symptomatology (Jenkins & Baird, 2002). Burnout is a process that occurs because of occupational stressors such as high caseloads, low morale, and minimal support (Maslach & Jackson, 1981). It is associated with emotional exhaustion, strain, and overload in addition to a reduction in personal accomplishment and job satisfaction (Maslach, 1982). Counselors are more likely to experience compassion fatigue, vicarious traumatization, and burnout when they have a previous history of personal trauma (Baird & Kracen, 2006), high emotional involvement with clients (Adams, Boscarino, & Figley, 2006), fewer perceived coping mechanisms (Baird & Kracen, 2006), and lower self-awareness (P. Clark, 2009). However, the goal of this article is to expand upon the phenomenon of compassion fatigue as distinguished from these other explanations of impairment to understand better how global events outside of the counselor–client dyad impact counselors. Although other impairment concepts hold value and applicability to counselors, compassion fatigue and its relationship to emotional suffering as a result of a desire to help others most closely aligns with the concept presented in this article. When considered in the context of counselors, an awareness of compassion fatigue, its effects, and how to mitigate those effects is vital for client welfare.
Counselor Impairment and Wellness
According to the ACA Code of Ethics, counselors should “monitor themselves for signs of impairment from their own physical, mental, or emotional problems” (ACA, 2014, p. 9). The ACA Code of Ethics dedicates an entire section to counselor impairment (C.2.g.), which states that, in the interest of client protection, counselors should cease providing services while impaired, seek assistance to solve issues of impairment, and assist colleagues and supervisors in recognizing and rectifying their own impairment (ACA, 2014). When counselors are impaired, it can result in significant harm to clients through an interference with the counseling process, trust violations, and ethical breaches (Lawson, Venart, Hazler, & Kottler, 2007). Adopting an alternative lens for viewing the impairment literature presents an opportunity for counselors to monitor themselves and others for potential issues as indicated by the ACA Code of Ethics (ACA, 2014). In addition, the ACA Code of Ethics guides counselors to “engage in self-care activities to maintain and promote their own emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual well-being to meet their professional responsibilities” (ACA, 2014, p. 8). As self-advocacy for wellness can promote better professional practice within the counseling community (Dang & Sangganjanavanich, 2015), counselors are encouraged to avoid and rectify issues of impairment through positive, health-promoting strategies.
Recognizing this area of need within the profession, ACA established the Taskforce on Counselor Wellness and Impairment in 2003 to address the needs of impaired counselors (Lawson & Venart, 2005). The taskforce identified goals for education for counselors on impairment and how to prevent it, securing treatment for impaired counselors, teaching self-care strategies, and advocating within the organization and at both the state and national levels to address issues associated with impairment. Although the taskforce focused on the broader topic of impairment, compassion fatigue remains a component of this experience. The creation, cultivation, and maintenance of a wellness lifestyle is a primary means of addressing and rectifying counselor impairment and compassion fatigue (Lawson & Venart, 2005).
Wellness is defined as “a way of life oriented toward optimal health and well-being in which body, mind, and spirit are integrated by the individual to live life more fully” (Myers, Sweeney, & Witmer, 2000, p. 252). Wellness and prevention are core components of counselors’ professional identities (Mellin, Hunt, & Nichols, 2011). As a result, researchers have studied the benefits of wellness strategies for counselors (Cummins, Massey, & Jones, 2007), counselor educators (Wester, Trepal, & Myers, 2009), and CITs (Yager & Tovar-Blank, 2007). Additionally, Figley (1995) specifically identified poor self-care as a primary risk factor for experiencing compassion fatigue, and Chi Sigma Iota’s (CSI; n.d.) advocacy themes, specifically Theme 6, outline the need for advocacy related to prevention and wellness for clients and counselors (Lee, 2012). The development of a taskforce, the extensive literature associated with compassion fatigue and wellness, and CSI’s identification of wellness as an area of advocacy indicate a clear relationship between counselor experience and counselor practice. Based on previous research, ACA’s stance on counselor self-care, and humans’ innate desire to engage in complex processes to achieve optimal functioning and well-being, it is beneficial for counselors to consider a new phenomenon related to their consistent exposure to global issues through media and social media. Counselors currently conceptualize compassion fatigue as a linear process occurring as a result of the cumulative direct exposure to clients’ distressing experiences. This article presents an expanded perspective on counselor compassion fatigue occurring as a result of exposure to current events and issues. Furthermore, this article offers a language for this experience as well as a conceptualization of the phenomenon.
I suggest the term global compassion fatigue to describe the process by which an individual experiences extreme preoccupation and tension as a result of concern for those affected by global events without direct exposure to their traumas through clinical intervention. GCF requires examining compassion fatigue outside of client-specific experiences and within a larger context. This invites counselors and CITs to explore how they are human and existing in a conflicted, polarized, and oftentimes troubling world.
Figure 1 provides a visual depiction of these constructs. After exposure to a traumatic global event, humans experience an acute stress-related psychological response (Holman, Garfin, & Silver, 2013); for counselors this may manifest as GCF because of their foundational helping skills rooted in the ability to feel and exhibit empathy for the issues faced by others (A. J. Clark, 2010). Once this response occurs, counselors can utilize wellness and self-care strategies and engage in social justice advocacy efforts as deterrents to GCF. If they bypass these methods, they might experience the extreme preoccupation and tension that are indicators of GCF. However, counselors can interrupt and manage their GCF by moving to wellness and advocacy strategies.
Figure 1. Process of GCF. After media exposure to a global event and engaging in an emotional response, counselors can immediately experience GCF. Wellness and advocacy are two methods of either addressing GCF after experiencing it or through prevention to deter the experience.
GCF differs from vicarious traumatization in that it does not denote permanent change in cognitive schema; rather, a counselor can experience GCF transiently and in response to significant global and communal events. Counselors experiencing GCF do so outside of clients’ presenting problems. Although no current counseling literature describes this phenomenon, Stebnicki (2007) proposed the concept of empathy fatigue, which “results from a state of emotional, mental, physical, and occupational exhaustion that occurs as the counselors’ own wounds are continually revisited by their clients’ life stories of chronic illness, disability, trauma, grief and loss” (p. 318). Whereas GCF does bear similarity to empathy fatigue, empathy fatigue remains related to an occurrence resulting from direct clinical exposure (Stebnicki, 2007), and GCF involves counselor introspection unrelated to session content. Relatedly, Bayne and Hays (2017) recently conducted a study to conceptualize the conditions of empathy within the counseling process. They developed an exploratory model of counselor empathy that acknowledges the multidimensionality of the empathic process, including the variables associated with counselor impairment. GCF proposes that counselors’ intense emotional experiences related to global concerns are associated with empathy and a desire to help those directly affected. Current events that may cause a counselor to experience GCF include politics, natural disasters, violence (including mass shootings), terrorist attacks, threats to human rights, and animal abuse.
Compassion fatigue research is the best point of reference when considering the experience of GCF. Compassion fatigue manifests through physical, psychological, spiritual, and social symptoms (Lynch & Lobo, 2012), and counselors experiencing GCF also can exhibit these symptoms. However, counselors must consider the source of their feelings of fatigue. For example, Coetzee and Klopper (2010) noted, “compassion fatigue is caused by the prolonged, intense, and continuous care of patients, use of self, and exposure to stress” (p. 239). I suggest that GCF involves a similar experience, although as a result of continuous concern for other beings, a desire to help recover from or solve the issues affecting those beings, and repeated exposure to current events harming individuals on a large scale. Additionally, ACA’s Advocacy Competencies call for professional counselors to engage in systemic and sociopolitical advocacy on a continuum ranging from the microlevel (i.e., the individual) to the macrolevel (i.e., the public; Lewis, Arnold, House, & Toporek, 2003). Therefore, it is a counselor’s duty to remain aware of systemic, environmental, and political factors impacting clients in addition to immersing themselves in advocacy and mechanisms for change. Such actions may leave counselors susceptible to impairment in response to global issues, although moving from awareness to action also can help prevent or mitigate GCF.
Researchers have explored the effects of distressing events on helping professionals. Early research described the relationship between clergy members’ compassion fatigue and their time spent with trauma victims following the September 11th terrorist attacks (Flannelly, Roberts, & Weaver, 2005). Counselors responding after a natural disaster (Lambert & Lawson, 2013) and trauma counselors (Sansbury, Graves, & Scott, 2015) are populations often researched in the compassion fatigue literature. For example, Day, Lawson, and Burge (2017) reported the results of a qualitative research study exploring compassion fatigue and shared trauma in clinicians providing services after the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007. Day et al. raised an interesting point between a counselor’s direct and indirect exposure to global events as well as the level of impairment resulting from the experience. Given the possibility that unresolved trauma can cause issues in functioning, direct exposure to an event removes the possibility that a counselor is experiencing GCF. This shared trauma may result in similar symptomatology, but these symptoms are attributed to the commonality of the trauma experience (Figley Institute, 2012).
From a different framework, researchers have explored the experiences of non-counselors when exposed indirectly to traumatic global events. Although many Americans were not in New York at the time of the September 11th attacks, nor were they likely to have known someone associated with the attacks, the stress of the event was felt across the country in the form of trauma symptoms (Schuster et al., 2001). Individuals living in Britain also experienced psychological changes as a result of the vicarious media exposure to these terror attacks on America (Linley, Joseph, Cooper, Harris, & Meyer, 2003). Similarly, college students at a separate university described an increase in acute stress symptoms as they learned about the shootings at Virginia Tech on television (Fallahi & Lesik, 2009). This research indicates that individuals can experience emotional duress in response to indirect exposure to global or national issues. Ultimately, it is important to remember that, despite extensive training and experience, counselors are humans navigating a society that can upset them in various ways. GCF awareness furthers counselor insight and promotes opportunities for evaluating self-care, wellness, and efficacy under these conditions. Such awareness requires an understanding of the role media plays in individuals’ experiencing of traumatic global events.
The Impact of Media
Previous researchers evaluated the impact of television viewing on an individual’s stress symptoms and levels of vicarious exposure (Fallahi & Lesik, 2009; Linley et al., 2003), suggesting that the role of technology can significantly affect a counselor’s ability to create boundaries and step away from the tragic circumstances occurring in the world around them. With 62% of adults obtaining their news from social media sites in 2016, an increase from 49% in 2012 (Gottfried & Shearer, 2016), it is clear that regular social media use can result in high levels of exposure to distressing news content. Additionally, four out of five adults in the United States reported constantly “checking” their cellular phones for emails, text messages, and social media (American Psychological Association, 2017). This same survey also described higher stress levels in the “constant checker” population than those using technology less frequently.
Researchers have discovered a link between emotional well-being and use of television media. Schlenger et al. (2002) found a statistically significant relationship between the levels of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and the numbers of hours spent watching television coverage of the September 11th terrorist attacks when assessing the psychological reactions of 2,273 adults residing in major metropolitan cities in the United States one to two months after the attacks. Fallahi and Lesik (2009) also identified a problematic association between indirect exposure to a tragic event through news media sources and symptoms of acute stress disorder.
Therefore, if a counselor or CIT is particularly sensitive to the content to which they are exposed through the media, they increase their risk of experiencing GCF. Conversely, social media also might provide an opportunity for community and connection in the face of global issues. The idea of community is no longer constrained within the bounds of physical associations; rather, the internet provides access to distant communities and relationships (Gruzd, Wellman, & Takhteyev, 2011). Supporters and activists involved in the Black Lives Matter movement are an example of such a community. Black Lives Matter erupted on social media as a Twitter hashtag created to raise awareness for and demonstrate protest against police brutality on members of the Black community (Petersen-Smith, 2015). Through this online movement, individuals were able to exhibit solidarity and take a stand against racism toward Black people with their use of social media (Schuschke & Tynes, 2016). Similarly, the #MeToo internet-based movement brought attention to women’s rights and sexual violence (Hostler & O’Neil, 2018), and social media platforms also provide a method of addressing the stigma of mental health and addiction (de la Cretaz, 2017).
ACA has an active social media presence through online pages and forums on their website, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn (ACA, 2017). The ACA Code of Ethics (ACA, 2014) states that counselors will use social media only when it is in the best interest of the client while protecting their identity and well-being (Section H). This is another example in which a position is based on a situation specifically involving the client and counselor. Although researchers have explored the role of social media in counselor education (Tillman, Dinsmore, Chasek, & Hof, 2013) and recommendations have been made for using social media ethically in clinical practice (Giota & Kleftaras, 2014), researchers have yet to explore how social media affects practicing counselors on an emotional level. Adopting GCF into the counselor impairment literature would suggest a need for ACA to also establish recommendations for counselors’ social media use and how excessive exposure to global events can affect their work as counselors.
A New Perspective
As social beings dependent upon one another for survival, humans have an evolutionary and biological drive to feel connected and invested in others. Specifically, humans are interested in the welfare of others on a neurological level (Lieberman, 2013). Counselors and CITs can feel a need to help others based on evolutionary compulsions rooted in social psychology. However, they also can feel this drive to an amplified extent because of their consistent demonstration and use of empathy, a foundational helping skill that allows counselors to “enter the client’s phenomenal world, to experience the client’s world as it were your own without ever losing the ‘as if’ quality” (Rogers, 1961, p. 284). Although all humans are susceptible to experiencing fatigue as a result of high exposure to global issues through media, not all humans work in a helping profession based in the empathic experience. Therefore, similar to the need for counselors to monitor themselves for impairment as a result of direct engagement with clients’ presenting issues, counselors also need to monitor for impairment from global issues. Regardless of continuous exposure to distressing global events, counselors continue to help others on a consistent basis. This indicates a critical need for counselors to understand their relationship to social media and the global events to which they experience an emotional response.
Symptoms of GCF can manifest similarly to traditional compassion fatigue. These symptoms can include emotional and physical exhaustion associated with care for others, desensitization to stories and experiences, poorer quality of care, feelings of depression or anxiety, increased stress, difficulty concentrating, and preoccupation (Figley Institute, 2012). Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the counselor to understand the source of these symptoms. Unlike counselors’ direct work with clients in which there may be greater opportunities to assist in managing or addressing a pain-inducing problem, emotional and cognitive responses to global issues present a different type of challenge. Managing issues in which a person may perceive little control and direct influence can cause responses such as rumination (Nolen-Hoeksma, Wisco, & Lyubomirsky, 2008) and fear (Pain & Smith, 2008). Although counselors can experience these feelings regarding clients (Sansbury et al., 2015), there are greater opportunities for direct interaction with the client needing assistance. In most cases, counselors are unable to directly impact the people involved in the global events to which they are continuously exposed through media and social media. Optimal human functioning involves integration of the mind, body, and spirit (Myers et al., 2000). GCF can impact this integration when counselors are unable to live fully through the exhaustion of exposure to global events. Wellness strategies and forms of advocacy can prevent or rectify these experiences. Myers et al. (2000) acknowledged that “global events, whether of natural (e.g., floods, famines) or human (e.g., wars) origin, have an impact on the life forces and life tasks depicted in [wellness models]” (p. 252). In addition, advocacy in the wake of social events can provide feelings of efficacy and social connection (Scott & Maryman, 2016). This new perspective provides implications for the profession of counseling, including recommendations, cultural considerations, and areas of future research.
Implications for Counselors
In a “plugged-in” society, it is possible to become overwhelmed with the daily stream of news and information. Additionally, counselors can be at higher risk of experiencing impairment because of their empathic nature (Figley, 1995) and ethical duty to engage in social justice for causes that improve equity for individuals and groups (ACA, 2014). As leaders and advocates, GCF may be present in counselors’ daily clinical work. Licensed counselors in private practice may not be receiving ongoing supervision (Bernard & Goodyear; 2014); therefore, no external individual is monitoring how they are managing GCF and its effects. Counselors outside of supervision must exercise great care to practice self-awareness and approach others for assistance. Furthermore, counselors in high-volume settings often work with large caseloads that present with complex issues (Belling et al., 2011; Lombardo, 2018), and it may be easy for them to ignore their own needs while addressing the needs of others. Given the critical period of counselor development, GCF also must be considered within the context of counselor education. GCF during the formative period of graduate-level education in counseling can impede overall skill development. As new counselors find themselves more likely to experience compassion fatigue (Figley, 1995), the same may hold true for GCF. GCF may result in a type of developmental stalling in which counseling students feel an “empathy overload.” Such an overload of empathic emotions may impede the student’s transformation into a counselor. This provides implications for counselor education programs to measure students’ responses to emotionally distressing stimuli (O’Brien & Haaga, 2015) of both clinical and global nature as well as openly and unashamedly discuss signs and symptoms of impairment (Merriman, 2015).
I propose that counselors can manage GCF similarly to compassion fatigue because of the possibility of the two phenomena appearing symptomatically similar. However, GCF requires a greater level of self-awareness, recognition, and acceptance in order to address it. Counselors must learn how to distinguish between the two concepts and understand the possibility for overlap. A number of tools used to manage compassion fatigue can be used for GCF. Supervision, personal counseling, and consultation are all avenues of accountability, monitoring, and fidelity to the profession (Bernard & Goodyear, 2014). Although advocacy can be another tangible method of preventing or mitigating GCF, activism can cause emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion (Chen & Gorski, 2015); therefore, advocacy paired with careful attention to wellness can allow counselors to be most effective in helping to address global issues (Roysircar, 2009). Self-care practices and a wellness lifestyle may also act as protective factors to GCF. Myers et al. (2000) noted, “If one’s spirituality is healthy . . . [it] provides a firm foundation and core for the rest of the components of wellness” (p. 258). This indicates counselors developing an optimistic outlook in response to global events creates greater buffering or management of GCF. Similarly, these authors also state that self-direction allows a person to “move smoothly through time and space”
(p. 258). The cumulative pressure of global stressors necessitates firm self-direction to maintain focus in the chaos of present time and space. Wellness is cumulative and enhances longevity for professional practice (Myers et al., 2000). Ultimately, counselors are ethically responsible for ensuring they practice healthy boundaries and work within their competencies (ACA, 2014). An open dialogue with colleagues, self-awareness of strong responses to global events, pursuing systemic change through advocacy, and cultivating personal wellness encourage management of GCF (Robino & Pignato, 2017).
GCF holds particular relevance for counselors of color. Individuals from historically marginalized populations must understand, identify, and address their experiences and the effects of systemic and individualized racism as well as the psychological trauma of oppression and marginalization (Carter, 2007). The number of publicized events that occur in relation to civil rights issues and social justice concerns warrant additional consideration of GCF in specific populations. For example, police brutality against Black males can cause GCF in many counselors, particularly in counselors of color because of the negative psychological health outcomes for communities of color that stem from racism and discrimination (Carter & Forsyth, 2009; Comas-Díaz, 2016). Furthermore, violence (e.g., the Charleston, South Carolina, shooting targeting a specific religious group consisting of people of color and the Charlottesville, Virginia, protests that resulted in the death of a counter-protester) and localized natural disasters (e.g., fires in Tennessee and the Western United States that affected entire communities and hurricanes like Harvey, Irma, and Maria that caused devastation in the Southern United States and Puerto Rico) also increase the risk of GCF in counselors indirectly or somewhat directly exposed to these events. At the time of this writing, the president of the United States has signed an Immigration Executive Order (Executive Order No. 13,769, 2017) that calls for banning residents of certain Middle Eastern countries from entering the United States. In addition, the public expressed outrage at the removal of children from families seeking asylum at the U.S.–Mexico border (Goldstein, 2018). Such traumatic events become a systemic, multi-level public health issue (Magruder, McLaughlin, & Elmore Borbon, 2017) and increase the possibility of GCF among concerned individuals, including counselors and counseling students.
The emergence of this concept paves the way for a broad range of research avenues. First, I recommend the study of GCF in counselor education programs. With CITs particularly sensitive to the nuances of the counseling profession (Bernard & Goodyear, 2014), the critical period of graduate education requires an examination into how GCF can affect counselor development. Second, the management of GCF calls for greater practice of self-care and exercising of insight. For example, researchers could explore the use of mindfulness and reflexivity in assessing how to treat counselors impacted by global events. Additionally, future research could explore the relationship of counselors’ social media use and GCF experiences. Statistics indicating the increase of social media as a news source (Gottfried & Shearer, 2016) raise questions of how counselors are impacted by their own internet activity. Researchers also could investigate counselor advocacy on social media. Although this article proposes that counselors may experience frustrations that contribute to GCF as a result of social media exposure to distressing global events, Dr. Holcomb-McCoy described social media as a tool for advocacy (Meyers, 2017), which may help in mitigating GCF. Such studies may assist counselors in delineating between GCF and other phenomena of impairment.
Finally, greater research is needed to assess and measure GCF. No accurate measurement yet exists for the phenomenon of GCF. Compassion fatigue measurements assess the negative aspects of helping others through direct contact (Figley, 1996). For GCF, this does not address the negative aspects of compassion for indirect exposure to global events. The Impact of Events Scale-Revised (IES-R; Weiss, 2007) measures the subjective distress associated with a traumatic event. However, the IES-R measures symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. Although it captures the experience of an external global event, it does not capture the transient, yet profound, emotional experience of GCF. The answer to assessing GCF may lie in the development of an instrument that combines compassion fatigue assessments and the IES-R to measure GCF symptoms as it relates to global events.
This article introduces the concept of GCF into the counseling literature. By expanding the literature on other explanations of impairment, we broaden opportunities for self-awareness and professional development. Previously researched impairment concepts require an expansion into this new perspective by incorporating the effects of exposure to current events. This new phenomenon also contributes to counselor wellness research and the importance of maintaining a healthy wellness lifestyle as a deterrent to GCF. Adopting this concept and language into the literature on impairment and wellness encourages further consideration of counselor health, counselors’ management of distressing global events, and how this may impact both counselors and clients as humans.
As counselors become competent in their roles as advocates for social justice, their involvement in critical global events necessitates attention to the cumulative toll such a role may entail. In addition, consistent exposure to emotionally debilitating global events through social media places counselors in a peculiar position in which they must balance their need to remain informed of events and their need to remain healthy and well. Counselors carry the extra responsibility of remaining present and empathic with their clients while also protecting the empathy they experience for the world around them. Counselors’ marginalized and impacted cultural identities also factor into their experiences of GCF. In this regard, wellness becomes not simply an ethical duty, but also a professional imperative in the interest of both counselor and client welfare.
Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure
The authors reported no conflict of interest
or funding contributions for the development
of this manuscript.
Adams, R. E., Boscarino, J. A., & Figley, C. R. (2006). Compassion fatigue and psychological distress among social workers: A validation study. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 76, 103–108.
American Counseling Association. (2014). ACA code of ethics. Alexandria, VA: Author.
American Counseling Association. (2017). Press room. Retrieved from https://www.counseling.org/about-us/about-aca/press-room
American Psychological Association. (2017). Stress in America: Coping with change. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2017/technology-social-media.pdf
Baird, K., & Kracen, A. C. (2006). Vicarious traumatization and secondary traumatic stress: A research synthesis. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 19, 181–188. doi:10.1080/09515070600811899
Bayne, H. B., & Hays, D. G. (2017). Examining conditions for empathy in counseling: An exploratory model. The Journal of Humanistic Counseling, 56, 32–52. doi:10.1002/johc.12043
Belling, R., Whittock, M., McLaren, S., Burns, T., Catty, J., Jones, I. R., . . . the ECHO Group. (2011). Achieving continuity of care: Facilitators and barriers in community mental health teams. Implementation Science, 6, 23–29. doi:10.1186/1748-5908-6-23
Bernard, J. M., & Goodyear, R. K. (2014). Fundamentals of clinical supervision (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
Carter, R. T. (2007). Racism and psychological and emotional injury: Recognizing and assessing race-based traumatic stress. The Counseling Psychologist, 35, 13–105. doi:10.1177/0011000006292033
Carter, R. T., & Forsyth, J. M. (2009). A guide to the forensic assessment of race-based traumatic stress reactions. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 37, 28–40.
Chen, C. W., & Gorski, P. C. (2015). Burnout in social justice and human rights activists: Symptoms, causes, and implications. Journal of Human Rights Practice, 7, 366–390. doi:10.1093/jhuman/huv011
Chi Sigma Iota. (n.d.). Theme F: Prevention/wellness. Retrieved from http://www.csi-net.org/?Advocacy_Theme_F
Clark, A. J. (2010). Empathy: An integral model in the counseling process. Journal of Counseling & Development, 88, 348–356. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2010.tb00032.x
Clark, P. (2009). Resiliency in the practicing marriage and family therapist. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 35, 231–247. doi:10.1111/j.1752-0606.2009.00108.x
Coetzee, S. K., & Klopper, H. C. (2010). Compassion fatigue within nursing practice: A concept analysis. Nursing and Health Science, 12, 235–243. doi:10.1111/j.1442-2018.2010.00526.x
Comas-Díaz, L. (2016). Racial trauma recovery: A race-informed therapeutic approach to racial wounds. In A. N. Alvarez, C. T. H. Liang, & H. A. Neville (Eds.), The cost of racism for people of color: Contextualizing experiences of discrimination (pp. 249–272). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Compton, L., Todd, S., & Schoenberg, C. (2017). Compassion fatigue and satisfaction among Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) providers: A study on risk and mitigating factors. Virginia Counselors Journal, 35, 20–27.
Cummins, P. N., Massey, L., & Jones, A. (2007). Keeping ourselves well: Strategies for promoting and maintaining counselor wellness. Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education, and Development, 46, 35–49. doi:10.1002/j.2161-1939.2007.tb00024.x
Dang, Y., & Sangganjanavanich, V. F. (2015). Promoting counselor professional and personal well-being through advocacy. Journal of Counselor Leadership and Advocacy, 2, 1–13. doi:10.1080/2326716X.2015.1007179
Day, K .W., Lawson, G., & Burge, P. (2017). Clinicians’ experiences of shared trauma after the shootings at Virginia Tech. Journal of Counseling & Development, 95, 269–278. doi:10.1002/jcad.12141
de la Cretaz, B. (2017, April 21). The Voices Project is fighting addiction & stigma through social media. Retrieved from https://www.thefix.com/voices-project-fighting-addiction-stigma-through-social-media
Exec. Order No. 13,769, 3 C.F.R. 8977-8982 (2017).
Fallahi, C. R., & Lesik, S. A. (2009). The effect of vicarious exposure to the recent massacre at Virginia Tech. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 1, 220–230. doi:10.1037/a0015052
Figley, C. R. (Ed.). (1995). Compassion fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress disorder in those who treat the traumatized. Philadelphia, PA: Brunner/Mazel.
Figley, C. R. (1996). Review of the Compassion Fatigue Self-Test. In B. H. Stamm (Ed.), Measurement of stress, trauma, and adaptation (pp. 127–130). Baltimore, MD: Sidran Press.
Figley Institute. (2012). Basics of compassion fatigue. Retrieved from http://www.figleyinstitute.com/documents/Workbook_AMEDD_SanAntonio_2012July20_RevAugust2013.pdf
Flannelly, K. J., Roberts, S. B., & Weaver, A. J. (2005). Correlates of compassion fatigue and burnout in chaplains and other clergy who responded to the September 11th attacks in New York City. Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling, 59, 213–224. doi:10.1177/154230500505900304
Giota, K. G., & Kleftaras, G. (2014). Social media and counseling: Opportunities, risks, and ethical considerations. International Journal of Social, Behavioral, Educational, Economic, Business, and Industrial Engineering, 8, 2378–2380.
Goldstein, J. M. (2018, May 26). As ICE separates children from parents at the border, public outrage grows. Retrieved from https://thinkprogress.org/as-ice-separates-children-from-parents-at-the-border-public-outrage-grows-c624e69cd43f/
Gottfried, J., & Shearer, E. (2016, May 26). News use across social media platforms 2016. Retrieved from www.jour
Gruzd, A., Wellman, B., & Takhteyev, Y. (2011). Imagining Twitter as an imagined community. American Behavioral Scientist, 55, 1294–1318. doi:10.1177/0002764211409378
Holman, E. A., Garfin, D. R., & Silver, R. C. (2013). Media’s role in broadcasting acute stress following the Boston Marathon bombings. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111, 93–98.
Hostler, M. J., & O’Neil, M. (2018, April 17). Reframing sexual violence: From #MeToo to Time’s Up. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Retrieved from https://ssir.org/articles/entry/reframing_sexual_violence_from_metoo_to_times_up
Jenkins, S. R., & Baird, S. (2002). Secondary traumatic stress and vicarious trauma: A validational study. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 15, 423–432. doi:10.1023/A:1020193526843
Lambert, S. F., & Lawson, G. (2013). Resilience of professional counselors following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Journal of Counseling & Development, 91, 261–268. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.2013.00094.x
Lawson, G., & Venart, B. (2005). Preventing counselor impairment: Vulnerability, wellness, and resilience. In VISTAS: Compelling perspectives on counseling. Retrieved from https://www.counseling.org/Resources/Library/VISTAS/
Lawson, G., Venart, E., Hazler, R. J., & Kottler, J. A. (2007). Toward a culture of counselor wellness. The Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education, and Development, 46, 5–19. doi:10.1002/j.2161-1939.2007.tb00022.x
Lee, C. C. (2012). Social justice as the fifth force in counseling. In C. Y. Chang, C. A. Barrio Minton, A. L. Dixon, J. E. Myers, & T. J. Sweeney (Eds.), Professional counseling excellence through leadership and advocacy (pp. 109–120). New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.
Lewis, J. A., Arnold, M. S., House, R., & Toporek, R. L. (2003). ACA advocacy competencies. Retrieved from https://www.counseling.org/resources/competencies/advocacy_competencies.pdf
Lieberman, M. D. (2013). Social: Why our brains are wired to connect. New York, NY: Crown.
Linley, P. A., Joseph, S., Cooper, R., Harris, S., & Meyer, C. (2003). Positive and negative changes following vicarious exposure to the September 11 terrorist attacks. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 16, 481–485. doi:10.1023/A:1025710528209
Lombardo, C. (2018, February 26). With hundreds of students, school counselors just try to ‘stay afloat’. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/02/26/587377711/with-hundreds-of-students-school-counselors-just-try-to-stay-afloat
Lynch, S. H., & Lobo, M. L. (2012). Compassion fatigue in family caregivers: A Wilsonian concept analysis. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 68, 2125–2134. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.2012.05985.x
Magruder, K. M., McLaughlin, K. A., & Elmore Borbon, D. L. (2017). Trauma is a public health issue. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 81, 1375338. doi:10.1080/20008198.2017.1375338
Maslach, C. (1982). Burnout: The cost of caring. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Maslach, C., & Jackson, S. E. (1981). The measurement of experienced burnout. Journal of Occupational Behavior, 2(2), 99–113. doi:10.1002/job.4030020205
McCann, I. L., & Pearlman, L. A. (1990). Vicarious traumatization: A framework for understanding the psychological effects of working with victims. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 3, 131–149.
Meadors, P., Lamson, A., Swanson, M., White, M., & Sira, N. (2010). Secondary traumatization in pediatric healthcare providers: Compassion fatigue, burnout, and secondary traumatic stress. OMEGA: Journal of Death and Dying, 60(2), 103–128. doi:10.2190/OM.60.2.a
Mellin, E. A., Hunt, B., & Nichols, L. M. (2011). Counselor professional identity: Findings and implications for counseling and interprofessional collaboration. Journal of Counseling & Development, 89, 140–147. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2011.tb00071.x
Merriman, J. (2015). Enhancing counselor supervision through compassion fatigue education. Journal of Counseling & Development, 93, 370–378. doi:10.1002/jcad.12035
Meyers, L. (2017, June 12). Illuminate closing: Less talk, more action. Counseling Today, Online Exclusives. Retrieved from https://ct.counseling.org/2017/06/illuminate-closing-less-talk-action/
Myers, J. E., Sweeney, T. J., & Witmer, J. M. (2000). The Wheel of Wellness counseling for wellness: A holistic
model for treatment planning. Journal of Counseling & Development, 78, 251–266.
Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Wisco, B. E., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). Rethinking rumination. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 400–424. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6924.2008.00088.x
O’Brien, J. L., & Haaga, D. A. F. (2015). Empathic accuracy and compassion fatigue among therapist trainees. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 46, 414–420. doi:10.1037/pro0000037
Pain, R., & Smith, S. J. (Eds.). (2008). Fear: Critical geopolitics and everyday life. New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.
Petersen-Smith, K. (2015). Black Lives Matter: A new movement takes shape. International Socialist Review, 96. Retrieved from http://isreview.org/issue/96/black-lives-matter
Ratts, M. J. (2009). Social justice counseling: Toward the development of a “fifth force” among counseling paradigms. The Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education, and Development, 48(2), 160–172.
Ratts, M. J., D’Andrea, M., & Arredondo, P. (2004). Social justice counseling: “Fifth force” in the field. Counseling Today, 47, 28–30.
Robino, A., & Pignato, L. (2017, February). Global compassion fatigue: An ethical duty for awareness and action. Paper presented at the Virginia Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (VACES) Conference, Norfolk, VA.
Rogers, C. R. (1961). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Roland, C. B. (2016, November 10). ACA president issues post-election statement of support. Retrieved from https://www.counseling.org/news/updates/2016/11/10/aca-president-issues-post-election-statement-of-support
Roysircar, G. (2009). The big picture of advocacy: Counselor, heal society and thyself. Journal of Counseling & Development, 87, 288–294. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2009.tb00109.x
Sansbury, B. S., Graves, K., & Scott, W. (2015). Managing traumatic stress responses among clinicians: Individual and organizational tools for self-care. Trauma, 17(2), 114–122. doi:10.1177/1460408614551978
Schlenger, W. E., Caddell, J. M., Ebert, L., Jordan, B. K., Rourke, K. M., Wilson, D., . . . Kulka, R. A. (2002). Psychological reactions to terrorist attacks: Findings from the national study of Americans’ reactions to September 11. JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association, 288, 581–588. doi:10.1001/jama.288.5.581
Schuschke, J., & Tynes, B. M. (2016). Online community empowerment, emotional connection, and armed love in the Black Lives Matter Movement. In S. Y. Tettegah (Ed.), Emotions, technology, and social media (pp. 25–47). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Schuster, M. A., Stein, B. D., Jaycox, L. H., Collins, R. L., Marshall, G. N., Elliott, M. N., . . . Berry, S. H. (2001). A national survey of stress reactions after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The New England Journal of Medicine, 345, 1507–1512. doi:10.1056/NEJM200111153452024
Scott, J. T., & Maryman, J. (2016). Using social media as a tool to complement advocacy efforts. Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice, 7(1S), 1–22. doi:10.7728/0701201603
Solomon, J. (2007). Metaphors at work: Identity and meaning in professional life. Retrieved from http://thegoodproje
Sorenson, C., Bolick, B., Wright, K., & Hamilton, R. (2016). Understanding compassion fatigue in healthcare providers: A review of current literature. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 48, 456–465. doi:10.1111/jnu.12229
Stebnicki, M. A. (2007). Empathy fatigue: Healing the mind, body, and spirit of professional counselors. American Journal of Psychiatric Rehabilitation, 10, 317–338. doi:10.1080/15487760701680570
Tillman, D. R., Dinsmore, J. A., Chasek, C. L., & Hof, D. D. (2013). The use of social media in counselor education. In Ideas and Research you can use: VISTAS 2013. Retrieved from http://www.counseling.org/docs/default-source/vistas/the-use-of-social-media-in-counselor-education.pdf?sfvrsn=370433a5_10
Weiss, D. S. (2007). The Impact of Event Scale—Revised. Retrieved from http://www.emdrhap.org/co
Wester, K. L., Trepal, H. C., & Myers, J. E. (2009). Wellness of counselor educators: An initial look. The Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education, and Development, 48, 91–109. doi:10.1002/j.2161-1939.2009.tb00070.x
Yager, G. G., & Tovar-Blank, Z. G. (2007). Wellness and counselor education. The Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education, and Development, 46(2), 142–153. doi:10.1002/j.2161-1939.2007.tb00032.x
Yep, R. (2017, December 21). ACA weighs in on wording restrictions at the Centers for Disease Control [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.counseling.org/news/aca-blogs/aca-government-affairs-blog/aca-government-affairs-blog/2017/12/20/aca-weighs-in-on-wording-restrictions-at-the-centers-for-disease-control
Ariann Evans Robino, NCC, is an assistant professor at Nova Southeastern University. Correspondence can be addressed to Ariann Robino, 3301 College Avenue, Maltz Building, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33314, email@example.com.