Therapy That Works...

Gearing Advantage

Doctors Sylvia and Milton Gearing have been serving the Dallas-Fort Worth area since 1985 with compassion and professionalism.

The Gearings implement the latest in psychological research to stay at the cutting edge of their field and bring the most effective and life changing techniques to their clients.

Their methods and strategies have been sharpened over the years, and are now built upon Gearing Up’s Three Gears of Change.

Compassion Fatigue - Sept 17, 2005

Compassion Fatigue

September 17, 2005

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, CBS 11 News

Many Americans are reaching out to Katrina's victims in a variety of ways and hosting a refugee family is an important contribution many North Texans are making. Psychologists are now reporting that there may be some important issues to keep in mind if you are helping in this way. Here to tell us more is Dr. Sylvia Gearing.

Q: What should North Texans keep in mind if they are hosting these families or working closely with them?

Dr. Sylvia: It is vital to remember that giving to others without receiving is one of the most rewarding experiences that people can have. There is no better chance currently to experience altruism than the present situation with the Katrina refugees. However, there are several issues to keep in mind.

First of all, remember that many of these people are the walking wounded. They may be severely fatigued and traumatized. If you are hosting them in your home, give them a lot of support and freedom to adjust. All the markers of a normal life--their families, homes, jobs--have been swept away in this storm. Without those stabilizing influences, they may experience the following symptoms:

  • Daily Need to withdraw and Re-boot
  • Severe Sleep Disturbances
  • Obsession with Safety
  • Need to Verbalize Trauma
  • Overreactions, Irritability and Panic

Q: How many of the Katrina victims will experience emotional hardship?

Dr. Sylvia: Many of them will experience Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Around 50% of people exposed to this kind of horrific event will experience this problem. Within a year, around 50% of these conditions will be resolved.

Q: What will determine how traumatized the refugees will be?

Dr. Sylvia: Basically, the most powerful determinant of the psychological trauma is the traumatic event itself. There is a simple, direct relationship between the severity of the trauma and its psychological impact on the person. Natural disasters are somewhat less traumatic than "person to person" assaults.

Q: Do individual differences make a difference in the trauma?

Dr. Sylvia: The impact of traumatic events does depend to some degree on the resilience of the affected person. While studies of combat veterans in the World War II have shown that every man had his "breaking point," some "broke" more easily than others. Only a small number of exceptional people appear to be relatively invulnerable in extreme situations.

Q: As Americans reach out to these victims, will many of the caregivers experience emotional turmoil?

Dr. Sylvia: Yes, it is important to remember that these recollections of extreme human suffering and horror from the Katrina refugees may be deeply troubling. While you may yearn to absorb all the facts of their story, it may be important for your own mental health to limit your exposure to the stories after awhile. These recollections may have more of a negative impact on you than you might have imagined. You may be at risk for developing compassion fatigue or secondary trauma.

Q: What is secondary trauma?

Dr. Sylvia: After the events of September 11th, we discovered that a lot of people in contact with the victims developed what we call "secondary trauma." This is defined as indirect exposure to trauma through a firsthand account or narrative of a traumatic event. The vivid recounting of the trauma by the survivor may cause a parallel post traumatic stress disorder in the listener. Symptoms such as re-experiencing the trauma, psychological numbing and hyper-arousal may be common.

Q: Is it more difficult to hear these stories if you have a history of trauma?

Dr. Sylvia: It is absolutely more difficult. If you have a history of trauma, these events may stir memories of your own experiences. At the moment of trauma, the victim is rendered helpless by overwhelming forces. These traumatic events, such as Hurricane Katrina, annihilate the ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection, and meaning.