Prior to the pandemic, a touch would go a long way in healing and restoring hope. But social distancing has made a ministry of presence challenging. This challenge adds pressure to those in leadership. Courtesy of the Holy Way Presbyterian Church
What to do when trauma and crisis take their toll, By Darla Carter | Presbyterians Today | February 22, 2021
A year of shepherding God’s people through a pandemic has put a strain on pastors as they have had to rethink how to do everything from pastoral care to worship. And with more adaptive shepherding to come, especially with medical experts predicting any return to pre-COVID-19 activities won’t be happening till late fall —hopefully — the strain of constantly thinking differently and creatively while tending flocks that are eager for some sense of normalcy can result in developing compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue, as defined in a resource kit offered by the Office for Victims of Crime, is “a combination of physical, emotional and spiritual depletion associated with caring for others who are in significant emotional pain and physical distress.” That trauma, as well as other stressors, can build up over time in pastors, as well as other caregivers and first responders, making it difficult to cope, whether it’s during a pandemic or a natural disaster.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for more ministries that feed the hungry. But increasing needs can lead to compassion fatigue. Courtesy of the Holy Way Presbyterian Church
Ministering to trauma survivors can also lead pastors and other caregivers to “feeling their own level of secondary trauma,” explained the Rev. Dr. Kathy Riley, associate for emotional and spiritual care for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA). “They can feel all sorts of things — anxious, depressed, just kind of depleted and just not able to figure out how they can keep going with the caring work that they’re doing.”
Compassion fatigue, however, should not be confused with burnout. According to the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, director of PDA, “burnout is basically more about your perception of the environment in which you’re working.” Kraus, a compassion fatigue author and expert, points out that compassion fatigue is “a combination of the internal effect of secondary traumatization and the whole effect of feeling like you’re in a context where your resources are constantly being outweighed by the demands that are being placed on you.” …
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