Book Review: Help for the Helper


     Babette Rothschild’s recent book release, entitled Help for the Helper: Preventing Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma in an Ever-Changing World, Updated + Expanded, is an extension of Rothschild’s original 2006 edition. The new edition addresses the current needs of helping professionals since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rothschild focuses on the emotions that are received, internalized, and carried by helping professionals, and the book explains the impact of chronically taking in the emotions and realities of clients. This pattern can lead to vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and burnout among helping professionals, according to the existing literature, theory, research, Rothschild’s professional consultations, and professional anecdotes described in the book.

     Moreover, a significant highlight of the book is Rothschild’s description of the impact of empathy on the helping professional’s nervous system and its connection to vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and burnout. Rothschild provides recommendations for the helping professional, including psychotherapists and social workers. Thus, the book demonstrates how empathy realizes itself in the nervous system, but it also highlights how helping professionals can manage their nervous systems in order to reduce its negative effects.

     The utility of Help for the Helper is reflected in its prose, psychoeducation, literature review, and description of skill building. The book’s mixture of prose makes it feasible—it consists of information with credible references in comprehensible language and divides its paragraphs with practice examples, professional anecdotes, activities, and questions for reflection.

     Moreover, the author is a credible source who provides psychoeducation about empathy and its impact throughout the book. Although the book’s literature review is pertinent to the early 21st century and late 20th century, a strength of the book is its explication of the neurophysiology of empathy and arousal according to theory and research, such as Porges’s polyvagal theory. For instance, Rothschild delineates the connection between the autonomic nervous system, somatic empathy, and vicarious trauma. Thus, the book uses scientific research to validate the intensity of helping professions, like social work and psychotherapy, for the practitioner.

     Through its explication of the neurophysiological impact of conducting psychotherapy and other social work practice, Help for the Helper focuses its recommendations and skill building on regulating the practitioner’s nervous system. The skills explored in Help for the Helper include, but are not limited to, tracking personal arousal levels, rebuilding awareness during sessions, practicing mindfulness, shifting self-talk, reducing stress to improve rational thinking, assessing self-history through consultation or personal treatment, and implementing personal self-care. Through its psychoeducation and recommendations for skill building, the book instills hope for social workers and other helping professionals, just as social work practitioners do for their clients.

     Overall, Rothschild informs the reader of methods to maintain well-being that can reinforce healthy states, which can ultimately reduce vicarious trauma, burnout, and compassion fatigue in social work practice. Thus, social workers and social work students can utilize Help for the Helper for personal self-care and professional practice.  

Reviewed by Marianna Siordia, MSW, ACSW, PPSC, school social worker, California.

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