PLU’s MediaLab examines ‘Compassion Fatigue’

  • PLU MediaLab filmmakers Katie Scaff (far right), Hailey Rile (second from right) and Elizabeth Herzfeldt-Kamprath (center) interview survivors of the May 2011 tornado that ravaged Joplin, Mo., killing 160 people and injuring more than 900. Photo by Jake Ooley. (Photo by Jake Ooley)

Those repeatedly exposed to tragedy and trauma, such as health care workers, firefighters and law enforcement officers, may be susceptible to a condition known as "compassion fatigue," according to a new documentary produced by three Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) student filmmakers.

"Overexposed: The Cost of Compassion," makes its South Sound premiere on Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. in the Mary Baker Russell Music Center's Lagerquist Concert Hall, located near the intersection of 8th Avenue Court South, and Wheeler Street South, on PLU's campus in Parkland.

A panel discussion and reception will follow the screening of the film. Panelists will include John Schenk, a former relief worker for World Vision of Federal Way, Michelle Harrison of Associated Ministries in Tacoma, and several PLU professors. These experts will offer insights about compassion fatigue and effects of the condition.

The MediaLab student researchers responsible for producing "Overexposed" – PLU seniors Elizabeth Herzfeldt-Kamprath, Hailey Rile and junior Katie Scaff – spent more than one year researching the topic and producing the film.

"After reading a little bit about what compassion fatigue is," Scaff said, "we realized that this was an important issue that more people need to be aware of."

The title of the film, which came to the filmmakers during one of the more than 60 interviews they conducted all across North America, is evocative of the human toll associated with repeated exposure to trauma and suffering.

The team traveled some 12,000 miles across the United States and Canada by car, train and plane in search of people with unique stories to tell. In New Orleans, for example, the researchers met survivors of Hurricane Katrina, a nationally renowned expert who wrote the first book about compassion fatigue and a sexual trauma nurse at Louisiana State University Hospital. The filmmakers' work also took them to California, Illinois, Washington D.C., New York City and Kingston, Ontario, where they attended the first annual Compassion Fatigue conference.

"It’s been a busy year. But we’ve learned so much," Scaff said. "Our goal now is to bring awareness to this issue so people can identify it and know how to cope."

The team is currently working on creating a version of the film that could be used for training purposes in a variety of social service professions.

The screening of "Overexposed" is part of the first annual PLU School of Arts + Communication Focus Series, which consists of four events that address various aspects of compassion through different disciplinary lenses.

"Our goal with the new Focus Series is to bring together our talented students and faculty to focus on a common theme through a multi-disciplinary approach," said Cameron Bennett, dean of the School of Arts and Communication. "'Compassion,' the theme for the 2011-12 Series, is one of relevance in these challenging times and certainly a cornerstone of social interconnection and human values that brings us together. It promises to be an exciting and thought-provoking journey."

For more details about the SOAC Focus Series, visit:

MediaLab at PLU, which was established in 2006, is a student-faculty research and applied internship program that provides students with opportunities to explore various methods of mass communication.

"Overexposed" marks the seventh film produced by MediaLab, which has received numerous national recognitions for its work, including one Emmy Award and three consecutive Emmy nominations.

The School of Arts and Communication at PLU houses the Departments of Art & Design, Communication & Theatre, and Music and presents more than 250 events each season. PLU offers approximately 3,500 students a unique blend of academically rigorous liberal arts and professional programs. Students develop skills in decision-making, analysis, communication and reasoning that prepare them for a lifetime of success – both in their careers and in service to others.

For additional information, contact the School of Arts and Communication at (253) 535-7150 or Connect at or

For information about "Overexposed: The Cost of Compassion" or MediaLab, visit: or Connect with MediaLab at or

Erica Buege is a freelance writer based in Parkland and a member of MediaLab at PLU.


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