You are the heroes of mental healthcare. You see it all – teens at their lowest, their highest, and those who want to die at their own hands. You chose this field because of the compassion you have for teens with substance use and mental health disorders, but what if that compassion wears thin? What do you do when that compassion runs out? How do you maintain the motivation for compassionate care?
The Elements of Compassionate Care
According to research presented in a 2020 Frontiers in Psychology review, “Compassion is among the most important virtues in medicine, expected from medical professionals, and anticipated by patients.” Compassionate care has been shown to be crucial to better outcomes for patients. Yet maintaining the motivation for compassionate care is one of the most challenging aspects of the job for health care providers, especially for those in the mental health industry.
The word compassion comes from the Latin root “compati,” which means “to suffer with.” If you have chosen this industry, then clearly you have compassion for those suffering from mental health disorders. There are five basic elements to compassionate care:
- Recognizing human suffering
- Understanding human suffering
- Feeling for the person suffering
- Tolerating uncomfortable feelings
- Motivation to alleviate human suffering
These elements extend far beyond empathy, concern, and sympathy. Together, they create the motivation to act. Together, they demonstrate that you are willing to “suffer with” your clients. But what happens if you feel that slipping? What if you lose the motivation for compassionate care?
Finding Your “Why” as a Provider
One of the strongest motivators is finding your “why.” What was it that made you enter this field? Are you in recovery? Did you lose a family member or friend to drug or alcohol addiction, suicide, or other mental health crisis? What is it that gets you out of bed every day, that motivates you to keep doing this job when everything seems stacked against you?
Having a “why” and knowing what it is that got you into this field will give you that rock, that foundation to come back to every time you feel like you are a little burned out in the area of compassion.
Avoiding Compassion Burnout
Some of the ways to avoid compassion burnout include:
- Prioritizing breaks and vacations
- Attending individual and group therapy or meetings for yourself
- Setting clear boundaries between work and home
- Practicing gratitude, including a gratitude journal
- Connecting with peers
- Maintaining friendships and other relationships outside of work
- Building your support network
- Seeking serenity, courage, and wisdom, such as the words from The Serenity Prayer, attributed to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
As you actively seek to avoid compassion burnout, you will find solutions that will help you maintain your motivation for compassion, including self-care and self-compassion.
Recharging Your Batteries
Using self-care is something you teach your clients, but are you guilty of letting your batteries run out? With growing caseloads and shrinking funding, it may seem like you do not have time to recharge your batteries and practice self-care. Yet you teach your young clients that to be able to care for others, you have to take care of yourself first.
Self-care can be the daily things you do for yourself, including:
- Good diet
- Good sleep hygiene
- Mindfulness meditation/yoga
However, self-care can extend to making time to find things that fuel you and keep you passionate about life and your work. You may take only 15 to 30 minutes a day for this self-care, but find something that inspires you, such as:
- Cooking/eating new foods
- Reading new books
- Learning a new skill such as dancing, repairing broken objects, learning a new language, etc.
- Pick up an old hobby, even one from childhood
- Find shared hobbies with a partner, your child, or someone close to you
The list of self-care possibilities is endless. As you refuel your batteries, you will find the motivation again to offer compassion to your clients.
Practice what you preach. If your compassion tank is running on empty for your clients, look inward and see if you are exercising self-compassion. Are you offering yourself the same type of loving, caring kindness that you would show to a dear friend or loved one? Especially the kind of compassion you would extend to them in a time of crisis?
When you can look in the mirror and have compassion for yourself, understanding that the job you have is very, very difficult, but very, very important, you can maintain and extend that same compassion to the human beings you call clients.
Maintaining the motivation for compassionate care is one of the most difficult aspects of working with teens in the mental healthcare industry. By finding your “why,” taking steps to avoid burnout, practicing self-care, and finding your self-compassion, you will be able to maintain the level of compassion that brought you into this job in the first place. At Sustain Recovery, our staff offers compassionate care to teens with substance use and mental health disorders. Our unique extended residential care offers clients the opportunity to gradually return to their lives on their schedule. Our tough love is served with compassion as we allow our clients to buy into their recovery. Our Irvine, California, program is also unique in that we specialize in clients who have struggled to succeed at other programs. Contact us today at (949) 407-9052 if you have a client who you think may benefit from our program.