Researchers have noted that mental health professionals constantly exposed to clients’ traumatic experiences can themselves develop negative effects, such as vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress, or compassion fatigue. These psychological and physical effects can hamper a mental health professional’s ability to assist her clients and perform her job. Are there ways to mitigate the effects of compassion fatigue?
Researchers are still searching for an answer to this question. One possible method of reducing compassion fatigue is the use of guided imagery. In a recent issue of the journal Social Work Research, published by NASW press, researchers published their findings in a study of mental health professionals using guided imagery to mitigate the effects of compassion fatigue.
Guided imagery is a relaxation technique that relies on descriptive language to facilitate listener visualization of detailed, calming images, with the goal of achieving a relaxation response. In this study, selected participants were given MP3 players of guided imagery tracks, which they listened to for a set number of times per week. Examples of the tracks include “Meadow Visualization”, “A Walk in the Forest”, and “Mountain Lake”. Results from the study group were compared to a control group that used no guided imagery.
The participants who used guided imagery during breaks over the four-week period achieved significant reductions in anxiety and significant increases in sleep quality when compared to the control group. The researchers detail the specific data of the study in the article and note the study’s limitations. Still, they believe this indicates a possible area of assistance for mental health professionals, including social workers, in combating compassion fatigue. More research is needed in this promising area.