DEAR READERS: The COVID-19 pandemic has given the public a greater understanding of the nature of compassion fatigue, especially that of front-line health care workers, for whom I have the greatest sympathy and respect.
Compassion fatigue has both physical and psychological consequences, including: protective emotional distancing, exhaustion, frustration, anger, guilt, disrupted sleep and appetite, weakening of the immune system, psychosomatic disorders, anxiety, depression, despair, substance abuse and suicidal ideation. It must be recognized early as a situational and relational psychophysical crisis. Supportive intervention must be provided by understanding staff, friends and relatives, as well as professional stress-management therapists.
While compassion fatigue may include a diminution of empathy, it is the antithesis of the "empathy deficit disorder" I have often described. The latter is an endemic psychopathology of varying degrees of desensitization, objectification, separation and disassociation exemplified by killers, bullies and predators of all stripes.
Compassion fatigue needs to be more widely and sympathetically acknowledged. It has been an issue for decades for many caring souls working in animal shelters and in the veterinary profession, as well as in wildlife protection and conservation. Those caring in-home for a child, parent, spouse or companion animal may also suffer some of the symptoms of compassion fatigue. This can cloud end-of-life decisions, but affordable and effective palliative and hospice care, and support from visiting nurses and veterinary assistants, can be of significant benefit for all concerned.
Coping with the burden of empathy for others, be they human or nonhuman, can be a challenge; it calls for personal vigilance and self-care so we can better care for those we love and those we strive to heal.
DEAR DR. FOX: We are regular readers of your column, having a dog and two crazy cats. My teenage son, taking a break from online school, looked over your website and found your DVDs. We ordered two of them on cat and dog behavior and pet massage therapy, and we really enjoyed them.
Others look interesting, too, and we will look at them later. I wish you would let your readers know about these educational videos! -- D.G., Tulsa, Oklahoma
DEAR D.G.: I am glad you enjoyed these DVDs. I put them together several years ago, after my research and development of a system of massage therapy for dogs and cats -- many of which come to demand it on a regular basis! Here is a synopsis of the DVDs available on my website. They will be of educational value for all ages:
-- "Animals, Nature and Religion." A narrated slideshow that looks at animals and nature from various religious and cultural perspectives, which will interest people of all faith traditions and those who believe in compassion and reverence for all life. This presentation is an excellent classroom discussion point to debate the nature of our duties toward animals and the natural world.
-- "Cat Behavior and Psychology Plus Massage Therapy." A narrated slideshow that explores feline communication, body language, behavior, play and socialization, and looks at various emotional and behavioral problems, along with their prevention and treatment.
-- "Dog Behavior and Psychology Plus Massage Therapy." A narrated slideshow that explores canine communication, body language, behavior, play and socialization, and looks at various emotional and behavioral problems, along with their prevention and treatment.
-- "Eating With Conscience." We are what we eat. As a nation, we are unhealthy, and many of our health problems are due in large measure to the kinds of food we eat and how that food was produced. This DVD takes you into factory farms on a journey to expose animal sickness and suffering, crop diseases and toxic pesticides, and to find solutions. These issues will take generations to resolve. The sooner we act, by eating and farming with conscience, the better.
-- "The New Creation." The advent of genetic engineering biotechnology, with its new crops, foods and drugs, cloned and bioengineered farm animals and organ donor pigs, marks the new millennium. Its profound risks, harmful long-term consequences, and what we can do to stop this corporate insanity are detailed in this narrated slideshow and video presentation.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)