Compassion Fatigue: Warning Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of compassion fatigue can appear gradually or suddenly depending on the individual’s circumstances.  The Professional Quality of Life Scale (ProQOL) version 5 (2009) developed by Dr. Beth Hudnall-Stamm can be used to measure compassion satisfaction, burnout and secondary traumatic stress (compassion fatigue).  This self-assessment is available as a resource on our website.  Below you will find warning signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue according to Dr. Angela Panos.  If you experience compassion fatigue symptoms and/or have any concerns regarding your personal scores on the ProQOL you should consult with a physician or mental health professional.

Compassion Fatigue:  Warning Signs and Symptoms

  • Feeling estranged from others
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Outbursts of anger or irritability with little provocation
  • Startling easily
  • While working with a victim thinking about violence or retribution against the person or person who was victimized
  • Experiencing intrusive thoughts or flashbacks of sessions with difficult clients or families
  • Feeling there is no one to talk with about highly stressful experiences
  • Working too hard for your own good
  • Frightened of things traumatized people and their families have said or done to you
  • Experience troubling dreams similar to a client of yours or their family
  • Suddenly and involuntarily recalling a frightening experience while working with a client
  • Preoccupied with a client or their family
  • Losing sleep over a client and their family’s traumatic experiences
  • Felt a sense of hopelessness associated with working with clients and their families
  • Have felt weak, tired, rundown as a result of your work as a caregiver
  • Unsuccessful / find it difficult to separate work life from personal life
  • Felt little compassion toward many of your co-workers
  • Thoughts that you are not succeeding at achieving your life goals
  • Feel you are working more for the money than for personal fulfillment
  • A sense of worthlessness / disillusionment / resentment associated with your work


Panos, A. Understanding and preventing compassion fatigue – A handout for professionals, Retrieved August 22, 2014 from

Stamm, B (2009).  Professional quality of life:  compassion satisfaction and fatigue subscales, R-IV (ProQol).  retrieved August 22, 2014 from


Compassion Satisfaction

“Compassion satisfaction is the pleasure we derive from being able to do our work well.  Higher levels of compassion satisfaction are related to your ability to be an effective caregiver” according to Dr. Beth Hudnall Stamm.  The Professional Quality of Life Scale (PROQOL) Version 5 (2009) was developed by Dr. Beth Hudnall Stamm and can be used to measure compassion satisfaction, burnout and secondary traumatic stress.  This self-assessment is available as a resource on our website.

There are multiple ways in which compassion satisfaction can be cultivated.  Rather than than focusing on the negative or challenging aspects of the work, one can generate positive feelings by focusing on the aspects of the work that are enjoyable.  Remembering accomplishments, positive feedback from clients/patients/supervisors, times when a difference was made in someone’s life, and feeling gratitude for such opportunities can help shift a person’s perspective and elevate his/her mood.  Creation of a “smile file” to keep positive feedback from others, awards, cards, etc. can be helpful to review at times when the work seems overwhelming and you have lost sight of your positive impact.

Building a support network within the workplace can make work more enjoyable.  Reaching out to people in the same profession for support is helpful as they are likely to have experienced similar frustrations and joys while doing their jobs.  It is nice to take the time out to enjoy lunch and conversations with friends at work.  Identifying supervisors and mentors to whom you can go to for advice and/or learning opportunities can be gratifying.

Effective self-care can help you to maintain resiliency and keep your balance, thus contributing to compassion satisfaction.  Creating balance between work, family/friends and personal needs is essential.  Continually assessing and adjusting self-care between these three areas is important in establishing and maintaining balance.  When it seems as if one area of your life is dominating the others, it is time to make an adjustment.  To do so requires contemplation and mindfulness regarding what is working and what is not.

I encourage you to find opportunities to laugh, have fun, play and relax during time spent away from work in order to recharge and return to work refreshed.  It is too easy to get caught in the demands and responsibilities of both work and the home/family.  There will always be more to do and sometimes it can wait.  Your needs are important too!  You’ll have more to give when you acknowledge and respond to your needs.