Compassion Fatigue

Compassion Fatigue is "...the natural consequent behaviors and emotions resulting from knowledge about a traumatizing event experienced by a significant other or from helping or wanting to help a traumatized person". (Dr. Charles Figley, 1995)

Compassion Fatigue, also referred to as compassion stress or secondary traumatic stress, is a job hazard primarily associated with clinical settings and crisis events. Crisis workers who are the first responders in crisis situations or mental health practitioners who work with traumatized clients on a regular basis may experience negative consequences to their health and relationships and may be a risk for substance abuse or professional impairment.

Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue include:

  • Psychological Distress - Addictive or compulsive behaviors, distressing emotions, nightmares, somatic complaints, or impairment in day-to-day functioning.
  • Cognitive Shifts - Changes in beliefs assumptions or expectations; feeling guilty about good things in your life or feeling threatened or manipulated by your clients.
  • Relational Disturbances - Changes in relationships, professionally or personally, where the counselor distances himself from others or takes excessive control or responsibility of clients or loved ones.

Causes of Compassion Fatigue:

  • Direct client contact and prolonged exposure to clients who have experienced trauma. Fatigue response based on client-therapist relationship.

Higher risk of Compassion Fatigue for counselors who:
  • are highly empathetic
  • have had a personal experience with a traumatic event
  • have unresolved traumatic conflicts
  • work with traumatized children
  • work with clients who have a history of psychological trauma, such as with military combat
  • work with clients who have experienced trauma as a result of criminal victimization, natural disasters or social violence
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