Friday, July 18, 2008

A Word About Words...

Some of you have asked about definitions for terms used in the blog so it is my intention today to explain them as clearly as possible.

But before getting to that, I would like to offer a word of thanks to two colleagues and friends without whom this blog wouldn't exist.  The first is to compassion fatigue specialist, Francoise Mathieu ( who introduced me to Blogspot and then patiently and generously responded to all manner of technical questions.  The second is to Janet Ritchey (604 437 9992) of the Burnaby Home Library Service, a talented photographer whose beautiful pictures graced the second and third posts and will appear again from time to time.  Both women are strong supporters of caregivers of all stripes and I am especially grateful for their support in this work.

Now, on to the words:

Burnout:    A concept to describe negative responses to a demanding work environment. Burnout is not just tiredness that can be relieved by a vacation.   Rather, it is a cumulative state of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual exhaustion that develops when there is low job satisfaction, high work volume and the perception of powerlessness in the workplace.  Burnout can occur in any occupation.  

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):     A normal psychological response to an abnormal amount of stress.  Known over the years as "shell shock" or "combat fatigue", it is now recognized as an anxiety disorder that can develop suddenly or over time in response to any traumatic event.  PTSD includes symptoms such as intrusive thoughts, nightmares, avoidance of things that remind one of the traumatic event, a sense of hyperarousal or hypervigilance and disruption of relationships to self, others and the community.

Primary Traumatic Stress (PTS):    Symptoms of PTSD caused by the direct, personal experience of trauma.

Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS):    Symptoms of PTSD caused indirectly by observing or hearing stories of another's traumatic experience.

Vicarious Trauma:  A form of secondary traumatic stress.  A cumulative and permanent negative change in a helper's world view as the result of repeatedly hearing trauma stories.  A natural, fundamental, negative shift in one's beliefs about the world.            

Compassion Fatigue:   Secondary traumatic stress plus burnout, CF occurs when helpers are chronically unable to renew their resources and become profoundly physically and emotionally worn down.  This erosion culminates in an inability to empathize with or feel compassion for others.   CF and VT can occur at the same time in the same person and both are occupational hazards for all helpers.  Most of us experience different degrees of these conditions at different times in our helping careers.   

Chronic Sorrow:    A normal, profound, pervasive, continuing and episodic grief response found in those with significant, permanent impairments and in those who love them.  The grief stems from the discrepancy between how life is and how it 'should have been'.  Because this discrepancy lasts until the end of life, so does the sorrow.

While academics still debate some of these definitions, the descriptions listed here should give you an initial understanding of words that will turn up from time to time in the posts.  



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