Compassion Fatigue

What is compassion fatigue?

Compassion fatigue has been described as the “cost of caring” for others in emotional pain (Figley, 1982).

The work of “helping” requires open hearts and minds to those that they are working with or caring for – unfortunately, this very process of empathy is what makes helpers vulnerable to being profoundly affected and even possibly damaged by their work.

Compassion fatigue is not a disorder, it’s not something that you wake up one day and discover that you have it.  It is gradual profound emotional and physical exhaustion. Symptoms move up and down a continuum and may take months, even years to develop.  It is a normal, typical consequence to chronic stress and extreme empathic engagement. Think of it as a smouldering fire that eats away at your contentment, happiness and how you once saw the world, a gradual erosion of empathy, hope and compassion.

Compassionate Fatigue, Vicarious Trauma and Burn Out are complementary, yet different from one another.

Vicarious Trauma is being constantly exposed to others trauma /distress and is the transformation that takes place, that changes your fundamental belief system, eventually their stories become a part of you.

Burn Out is the physical and emotional exhaustion that workers can experience when they have low job satisfaction, powerless, and overwhelmed but it does not necessarily mean that our view of how we see the world has changed however It can be fairly easily resolved by changing jobs, this is not the case for CF or VT.

Managing Compassion Fatigue

The best strategy to address compassion fatigue is awareness, developing an early warning system that lets you know that you are moving into a caution zone.

Self care is not something we figure out once and for all and are certified in self-care. Via coaching you will learn to recognise one’s own symptoms of CF and implement strategies rapidly before things get worse.

The Compassion continuum, means that at various times in our careers, we may be more immune to its damaging effects and at other times feel very beaten down by it.

Within an agency, there will be, at any one time, helpers who are feeling well and fulfilled in their work, a majority of people feeling some symptoms and a few people feeling like there is no other answer available to them, but to leave the profession.

Ongoing Compassion Fatigue can lead to PTSD, Depression and Stress Related Chronic Illnesses and in some situations death. The helper’s current life circumstance, their trauma history, coping and personality style all affect how compassion fatigue works its way through.

There are many simple and effective strategies that helpers can implement to protect the worker/helper first, by openly discussing and recognizing compassion fatigue in the workplace, helpers can normalise this problem for one another. They can also work towards developing a supportive work environment.

Improved self-care is the cornerstone of compassion fatigue prevention. On the personal front, helpers need to carefully and honestly assess their life situation: Is there a balance between nourishing and depleting activities in their lives? Do they have access to regular exercise, non-work interests, personal debriefing? Are they caregivers to everyone or have they shut down and cannot give any more when they go home? Are they relying on alcohol, food, gambling, shopping to de-stress? Helpers must recognise that theirs is highly specialised work and their home lives must reflect this…home is where replenishment and refuelling should occur.

In our workshops and personal coaching and therapy, we encourage “helpers” to design a prevention toolkit that will reflect their Own reality, relative to the way they see the world and that will integrate their life circumstances and work challenges.

Compassion Fatigue Training is offered to organisations and individuals within all areas of the Helping Industry.

If you are an organisation and would like to hold a coaching event for your staff, please contact Helena.

Helena also offers individualised Programs to meet your unique needs.

What people have to say

National Collective of Womens Refuge

Thank you for the compassion fatigue training you provided to our participants at our Growth Strategy Hui. Your messages resonated with our wahine. The information you shared with us were insightful and brought to the forefront the importance of looking after ourselves emotionally, spiritually and physically, with simple techniques to help.

Our teams feel that your training will turn out to be one of our most talked about sessions this year – we have had some pretty fantastic sessions in past hui. Thank you for sharing your messages, your energy and your passion. You understood our needs and it was a pleasure working with you. You were flexible and informal yet always professional.

-Strategic Relationship Manager


Dr Paul House

Thank you for the informative training that you presented. We are talking about the issues and using techniques you shared, and I am confident that they are going to become part of our ongoing workplace culture and practice. Working in an emotionally draining sector we too readily normalise the impact that family stories and stressors have on us, so the training was a timely reminder to each of us.

Practice Manager


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