Overcoming Burnout and Compassion Fatigue in Schools, by Alison L. DuBois and Molly A. Mistretta (2020).
Dawin Whiten, Mustang Success Center, Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo, firstname.lastname@example.org
In Overcoming Burnout and Compassion Fatigue in Schools (2020), DuBois and Mistretta, addressed the concepts of burnout and compassion fatigue. The authors utilized current research, anecdotal stories, and workbook pages in an effort to inform education professionals on how to identify and employ protective practices when it comes to burnout and compassion fatigue. While there is little agreement among researchers on what is the definition and causes of burnout, for the purposes of this book review, I will cite what DuBois and Mistretta (2020), believed to be the most recent definition. Burnout is “a response to the chronic emotional strain of dealing extensively with other human beings, particularly when they are troubled or having problems” (As cited in Maslach, 2015). In other words, burnout is not something that sporadically occurs. It is a response to something occurring on a consistent basis over time. Furthermore, DuBois and Mistretta went on to analyze three specific sources that influence the development of burnout. First, the dynamics of the interactions one has with a variety of individuals in the school setting. Second, the work environment that those interactions take place. Thirdly, the individual characteristics educational professionals have that may influence the likelihood of developing burnout (Maslach, 2015). Academic advisors should feel encouraged to be more mindful about the sources in their workplaces that could potentially lead to burnout and those sources will vary institutionally. DuBois and Mistretta also explained some of the dimensions and stages of burnout as well as preventative strategies academic advising professionals can employ to develop resiliency skills to assist them in coping with, or to better manage workplace stressors. Academic advising professionals who are currently feeling burnt out can take solace in knowing that burnout is not a permanent condition. It can be remediated by making lifestyle changes or altering your current circumstances.
It should be noted that this book was not written specifically for academic advisors. However, the content herein is relevant to the academic advising profession. One of the core values all NACADA academic advisors adhere to is caring. We respond to and are accessible to students in ways that challenge, support, nurture, and teach. We build relationships through empathetic listening and compassion for students, colleagues, and others. As academic advisors, we sometimes come into contact with students who are suffering from deleterious effects of trauma, poverty, and poor parenting practices, otherwise known as “Adverse Childhood Experiences” (As cited by Anda et al., 2006). The constant exposure to the multitude of challenges students endure could result in academic advisors experiencing vicarious secondary trauma, especially for advisors who are highly empathetic. “Trauma not only affects the individual, it also can have a profound effect on the helper. Teachers, school counselors, and administrators can be negatively affected by the struggles of individual students, as well as suffer from the cumulative burden of supporting all students who have experienced trauma.” (DuBois and Mistretta, 2020). Therefore, it is important for academic advising professionals to be highly self-aware. Employing appropriate remediated responses or behaviors at the first signs or symptoms related to burnout is critical for any advisor to overcome or reverse negative effects of burnout.
Compassion fatigue is a little known concept that requires further research and analysis. This is further illustrated by the following quote, “Sadly, a paucity of literature exists in the field of education examining compassion fatigue as it relates to secondary trauma.” (DuBois and Mistretta, 2015). However, the book seemed to suggest that burnout and compassion fatigue goes hand in hand. Compassion fatigue is described as eliciting various complex emotions such as feelings of anxiety, fear, sadness, and depression in an individual. DuBois and Mistretta (2020) described some of the appearances of compassion fatigue such as a diminishing sense of hope, compassion, and empathy; changes in work performance; feelings of bitterness towards our jobs; violations of boundaries; and a loss of emotional regulation. This is important for current academic advising professionals who may be experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms of compassion fatigue to feel validated and empowered take corrective action immediately. For example, DuBois and Mistretta (2020) recommended paying close attention to sleeping patterns, appetite, immune system, and job performance. Any disruptions in sleep, stress eating versus not eating enough or at all, if you find yourself getting sick more often due to a compromised immune system, or if you are having difficulty completing routine job tasks are all red flags that changes need to be made. As academic advising professionals, in my opinion, it is essential that we prioritize our own wellbeing by ensuring we get adequate sleep or talk to a health professional about any sleep disturbances. It is essential that we stay hydrated and sustain ourselves nutritionally. We need to pay closer attention to our immune system and keep positive energy flowing towards our work and work environments as much as possible. There are many reflective exercises to help advising professionals to transition from compassion fatigue to compassion satisfaction. The content and exercises in this book correlates to the academic advising profession as it relates to the conceptual component of NACADA’s core competencies regarding academic advising approaches and strategies. Burnout and compassion fatigue are concepts academic advising professionals should be intimately familiar with because without being aware of the signs, symptoms, and factors that can cause burnout and compassion fatigue, disallows advisors the necessary self-care needed to endure the profession over the long haul.
Anda, R. F., Felitti, V. J., Walker, J., Whitfield, C. L., Cremner, J. D., Perry, B. D., Dube, S. R., Giles, W. H., (2006). The enduring effects of abuse and related adverse experiences in childhood: A convergence of evidence from neurobiology and epidemiology. European Archives of Psychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences, 256(3). 174-186.
Maslach, C. (2015) Burnout: The cost of caring. Los Altos, CA: Malor Books.
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA core values of academic advising. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreValues.aspx
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreCompetencies.aspx