Compassion Fatigue In Peer Grief Support

Compassion fatigue is a term often applied to medical personnel providing support to those facing traumatic circumstances. This powerful term can be applied to numerous alternate settings. The setting that I would like to apply it to is the act of peer care-giving for the bereaved.

There can be tremendous or hidden stress as a result of being engaged and involved with traumatized and grieving people.

My aim is to help those who would like to develop endurance as peers in grief to create practical conditions to sustain an even level of support.

First, know that what you do as a peer in supporting grieving people is very important. Peer support can, merely by virtue of what it is, be an important mainstay of a bereaved person's lifeline.

That said, it is important to understand that perhaps the most powerful thing you do is the most simple thing that you do. When you provide a compassionate witness to a person and their story, you have done a significant thing. If all you do is arrive, witness a person's expression and affirm it with compassionate attention, you have done an excellent job.

Your personal tolerance for grief and endurance for sadness may vary from the next person's. As well, people vary in their tolerance for a wide variety and range of sad and disturbing information. It is important for you to know when the exposure has been too difficult or disturbing for you and notice your stress response as a signal that you need a bit of psychological distance or a break from active peer grief support.

Compassionate care of the grieving is best done when your own self-care is maintained. There are many good techniques out there that can help you keep your self-care in balance so that you can recover from exhaustion or burn out in shorter time.
One system is called the BREADS system. The word BREADS provides a way to remember several concepts. There are two parts for each letter, one physical and one mental.

The twelve parts of the BREADS system are:
Breath (from your diaphragm)                  
Nurture your Belief system 

Practice Relaxation techniques daily        
Nurture mutual Relationships

Educate yourself re: stress

Monitor your Attitudes
Lead an Active lifestyle 

Eat a healthy Diet 
Determine that you'll be resilient 

Sleep well every night
Nurture your Serenity

Another system is H.A.L.T. , which is an excellent tool as well. The idea is to ask yourself the HALT question... Am I
If I am, then I need to HALT and take care of these factors before I continue any outpouring of compassionate care toward another.

The most powerful thing we offer those in pain is grounded presence and witness. We needn't have expert advice. We need not fully understand every nuance to a person's particular grief.

If we stand with the grieving and are mindfully present to them in a moment of agony, we have been all of what another normal human needs when they are heavy with grief. And the more self-care you mingle with the care of others, the more likely you are to find years of meaningful service to your peers in grief.

PS: I forgot to mention this, but central to my own focus of bereavement support is a belief that it is a privilege and an honor to enter into this sacred moment with another person. I become a richer human being for my contact and connection with a bereaved person. In this way, I enter - not as an expert or a leader - but a compassionate presence and a learner. I will often say things like, "Tell me about your beloved..." - or - "Tell me about your loss..." and allow the person to dictate where our conversation goes. Their story has power and I serve as a witness to their story. In a world that does not listen, much less listen to the bereaved, I believe that this is a powerful gift to share.