Compassion Fatigue: Being an Ethical Social Worker

By: Tracy C. Wharton, M.Ed., MFT

Socialworker – When I was a young counselor just out of school, I took a job at an alternative school. I provided crisis intervention and behavioral therapy to children who were unable to succeed in normal educational environments. One of my clients was a six-year-old girl who had been repeatedly sexually abused and had been bounced around foster homes with her aggressive outbursts. After one particularly bad day of her active flashbacks, I found myself sitting in my clinical supervisor’s office in tears.

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“How do you do it?” I asked. “I can’t sleep without thinking about her, about all of them. How do you deal with it?” He turned around and slammed his briefcase shut. “Like that,” he said, latching the locks shut. “You just have to learn to walk away. If you can’t do it, maybe you’re in the wrong field.”    I hated him at that moment, and suddenly I felt as if all my teachers had betrayed me for not letting me in on this little secret. Why hadn’t anyone told me that this job would hurt so much sometimes?

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