Preventing Compassion Fatigue

As a money adviser you are likely to meet people at a particularly stressful time in their life. Money worries are often part of a whole range of difficulties somebody is experiencing, for example relationship breakdown, addiction, mental illness or disability.

Advisers are likely to have clients with very upsetting personal stories. Providing compassion and a listening ear is an important part of helping a client successfully engage with advice, but this can also take a toll on you as the listener. If this strain is carried without being addressed, it can cause compassion fatigue, sometimes called secondary traumatic stress.

Compassion fatigue can provoke feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, apathy, resentment and ultimately burnout. While our research has found that advisers generally have a high level of job satisfaction and enjoy the helping aspect of the work, increasingly complex cases and vulnerable clients is a major factor affecting wellbeing. Complex cases or vulnerable clients take more time and effort, both practical and emotional, which can put advisers at higher risk of compassion fatigue.

This can be combated though, through self-care and self-reflection. Below are some tips for preventing and helping compassion fatigue.

Define your sphere of control

Much of the stress of a very distressed or vulnerable client with complex needs comes from knowing that the help you can offer is limited, and that there is no way to control or solve all of the problems the person is facing. What can be useful in this case is to affirm to yourself what your role is, in terms you can control.

For example, a money adviser’s job is not to fix a client’s financial situation, but rather to give the client the information and options they need to make a decision about their finances. Using the same example, if you are not able to proceed because of the client or a third party such as a creditor, that is outside of your control, so it’s worth deciding if there is anything you can do in the meantime. That might be to send a nudging email, focus on a different part of the case or a different client, or something else that helps you control the controllable.

Maintain clear boundaries

Part of your sphere of control includes the boundaries you set in your work. These include boundaries with your client, such as how and when they can contact you, what support you can offer and what you need from them to help them effectively. Just as important though are boundaries with yourself and your approach to work. When clients share very painful experiences, it is natural to empathise, but it is important to keep an awareness of whether any emotions or urgency being elicited are coming from you or the client.

Is this situation as urgent as it feels to the client?

Is your own emotional response being fuelled by any irrelevant feelings or opinions about the situation?

Staying self aware and maintaining emotional boundaries is an ongoing practice but can help to keep a compassionate distance which prevents you from being negatively affected. Practices such as mindfulness can also help you with this, and enable you to practice letting go of responses or feelings which are not helping you. You can find an introduction to mindfulness here.

Seek your own support

It’s especially important to have your own support system, since you are forming part of a support system for so many other people. Fellow advisers, even if they have a different specialisms, are likely to be able to share their own experiences and what helps them.

Outside of work, friends and family can help you find other things to focus on. Counsellors are highly encouraged to have counsellors of their own to help them process their own work, and you may find counselling helpful for similar reasons. If you have the ability and resources, finding a counsellor who specialises in supporting those in help-based professions may offer valuable support.

Have strategies for switching off

Sometimes clients’ stories from work follow you home, particularly when you are working from home and lack that clear divide. As well as engaging with the above suggestions, try to find distractions - other things to focus on.

This may be a hobby, a project, future plans, or a family duty; anything that can move your focus away from work. you may find it useful to look at our guide for switching off.