What is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue is a term that has emerged to describe the overall experience of emotional and physical exhaustion that caregivers in the helping professions feel as a result of the consistent use of empathy when treating clients who are suffering.  Charles Figley, a noted psychologist, family therapist and professor, is credited with coining the term in 1995.  The compassion that calls many caregivers into their professions, the intensity of their work and the exposure to clients’ traumatic material puts them at risk of experiencing occupational related injuries such as compassion fatigue (also referred to as secondary traumatic stress and vicarious traumatization) and burnout.  These caregiving professionals can include, but are not limited to, mental health professionals, medical providers, emergency response workers, veterinarian personnel, educators and bodyworkers.  Self-care has been identified, through research, as the best prevention strategy against experiencing the negative effects of stress by increasing resiliency.

Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue

  • Intrusive thoughts or flashbacks of sessions with clients or families
  • Disturbing dreams or losing sleep over a client and their family’s traumatic experiences
  • Feelings of helplessness / hopelessness associated with working with clients and their families
  • Withdrawing socially and becoming emotionally disconnected from others; experiencing increased problems in personal relationships
  • Becoming cynical, disillusioned, depressed, irritable and/or prone to anger
  • Overly consumed with work and difficulty maintaining balance between professional and personal life
  • Feeling little compassion toward your clients, co-workers and/or yourself