On June 13, 2012 ATSAR team members participated in continuing education using innovative on-line technology. With web-ex as a platform, Patricia Rivera, PhD, a clinical psychologist and ATSAR team member offered an hour-long training entitled “Compassion Fatigue and SAR: Knowledge is Power.”
Participants learned about personal and situational characteristics that may put them at increased risk of experiencing stress and burn-out, including high degree of empathy, length of exposure to a stressor, personal identification or past history with a similar trauma, and pre-existing stress load.
Compassion fatigue, or burn-out, shows up behaviorally, emotionally, and cognitively (in our thinking). Examples of behavioral symptoms would be physical upset such as nausea, headaches, stomach aches, insomnia, etc. Emotional symptoms may include depression, anxiety, fear, or grief reactions, and cognitive symptoms may include a sarcastic, pessimistic or negative outlook or self-statements.
Sources of stress specific to SAR personnel were identified. These include role ambiguity or absence of clarity of one’s role or mission, a lack of team cohesion, discomfort with SAR tasks and the personal risk involved, and pre-existing stress. Empathic failure from coworkers or family refers to the inability of non-SAR personnel to understand and support one’s involvement in search and rescue. This can often lead to a sense of isolation and an erosion of idealism or drive to achieve SAR related goals. Having multiple and varied interests outside of search and rescue can provide a healthy balance and focus on other personal goals
Finally, team members learned that there are multiple ways to prevent compassion fatigue with both personal and team-centered efforts. Building resiliency is a way to inoculate oneself from stress. Preparation through education and training serves to build not only personal skills and confidence, but strengthens team cohesion and serves to develop a sense of purpose while reinforcing the mission. A resilient team is one that communicates effectively, works with a shared purpose and monitors individual and group well-being.
After a SAR mission, awareness of delayed reactions is critical in order to prevent accumulated stress and strengthen resiliency. Dr. Rivera highlighted the importance of taking personal time to recover after a search and to seek support when needed. ATSAR members were encouraged to develop a personal plan for building resiliency by considering the following:
My non-SAR activities are:
Behaviors I do when I get stressed, are:
I know that ____ are signs of stress.
I can do the following activities to de-stress:
My physical signs of stress are:
I know I can talk to ____ when I get stressed.
Response to this form of continuing education was positive and ATSAR members identified several topics of interest for future events that will be offered on a regular basis.