Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Enhancing Counselor Supervision through Compassion Fatigue Education

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Enhancing Counselor Supervision through Compassion Fatigue Education

Article excerpt

Clinical counselor supervision is the process by which an advanced clinician, possessing appropriate training and credentials, facilitates the growth process of a novice member of the same profession (Bernard & Goodyear, 2009; Lambie & Sias, 2009). Supervision is fundamental in providing support to interns to allow this needed personal and professional growth (Lambie, 2007). Wheeler and Richards (2007) conducted a systemic literature review and found that supervision indeed benefited interns, enabling growth and development, specific skills, and self-efficacy.

The supervisory relationship within clinical supervision is a strong working alliance between the supervisor and intern and should be grounded in open and honest communication to be effective (Young, Lambie, Hutchinson, & Thurston-Dyer, 2011). The supervisory relationship "has consistently been cited as a foundational component of counselor supervision" (Vaccaro & Lambie, 2007, p. 52). This relationship promotes interns' growth and development (Young et al., 2011). A supervisor's task is to identify what level of counselor development the intern is functioning at and facilitate his or her progression to the next level (Stoltenberg & McNeill, 2010).

As supervisors conceptualize the supervision process, compassion fatigue is an important topic to address. Research has shown that new counseling professionals are especially susceptible to incurring compassion fatigue (Craig & Sprang, 2010; Figley, 1995; Sheehy Carmel & Friedlander, 2009; Voss Horrell, Holohan, Didion, & Vance, 2011). Consequently, new counselors need to become educated about the risks of compassion fatigue and the strategies that can serve as protective factors from the occupational risk of caring for others (Conrad & Kellar-Guenther, 2006; Craig & Sprang, 2010; Voss Horrell et al., 2011). Unattended compassion fatigue may lead to a plethora of undesirable outcomes (e.g., premature exit from the profession, boundary violations, ethical violations). Perhaps the most important risk is potential harm to clients by counselors and interns who are unable to make sound clinical decisions because they are unaware that they are affected by compassion fatigue (Adams, Boscarino, & Figley, 2006; Voss Horrell et al., 2011).

In their study examining the impact of compassion fatigue on the counseling profession, Sheehy Carmel and Friedlander (2009) found that a sample of 106 counselors had moderate levels of compassion fatigue. A large percentage (78%) of the participants identified as being novice counselors (Sheehy Carmel & Friedlander, 2009). Similarly, Lyndall and Bicknell (2001) found moderate rates of compassion fatigue in 46% of the counselors they studied. They also observed a greater risk for compassion fatigue in novice counselors. Thus, the counseling profession, especially at the entry level, appears to be affected by compassion fatigue.

In light of these findings, it would seem imperative to educate interns in the profession about compassion fatigue (Craig & Sprang, 2010; Musa & Hamid, 2008) and equip them with knowledge of protective factors (Alkema, Linton, & Davies, 2008). Compassion fatigue education could be key in serving as a protective factor during the clinical supervision process. This article provides educators and supervisors a practical resource to support the personal and professional development of interns. Specifically, in this article, I (a) define compassion fatigue, (b) explore symptoms and risk factors, (c) introduce protective factors, (d) review the purpose of counselor supervision, (e) review counselor development, (f) provide an overview of practical strategies for the prevention of compassion fatigue during supervision, and (g) consider implications for research.

Compassion Fatigue and Related Concepts

The first researcher to use the term compassion fatigue was Joinson (1992) when she described compassion fatigue in nurses as a form of burnout and postulated that the same personality traits that lead a person into nursing put that same person at risk for compassion fatigue. …

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