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Moral Distress, Compassion Fatigue, and Bureaucratic Cruelty

NCJ Number
Gazette Volume: 65 Issue: 3 Dated: 2003 Pages: 34-35
Jeff Morely
Date Published
2 pages
This article describes the psychological conditions of moral distress, compassion fatigue, and bureaucratic cruelty.
The work required of police officers continually places them face to face with human suffering. A researcher studying the Canadian police noted that when confronted with "unfixable suffering," individuals experience moral distress. Repeated exposure to events that result in feelings of moral distress can lead to a phenomenon known as compassion fatigue. Over time, those who care for others, such as police officers, begin to develop parallel trauma symptoms similar to the victims they assist. The three main trauma symptoms (intrusion, avoidance, and hypervigilance) are described and the two main negative outcomes of moral distress and compassion fatigue are enumerated. Generally, individuals suffering from these conditions experience depression, anxiety, or apathy or the psychological suffering can take its toll on the body in terms of chronic illness. When the issues of moral distress and compassion fatigue are not addressed within organizations that routinely deal with trauma, the outcome may be bureaucratic cruelty, in which the moral distress of the group is turned upon weak team members. Tips are offered for counteracting the effects of psychological suffering, including the importance of self-awareness and self-care. Therapy, or communion, is also suggested as the act of people coming together for a common cause promotes healing. Anyone with a career in policing must remain vigilante about taking care of their psychological and moral health. References