Those who work closely with people who have been through trauma, have suffered the loss of a loved one, or struggle due to socio-economic, mental, or physical factors can develop compassion fatigue as a result of this emotionally taxing work.
This can occur in anyone who works in a healing or helping profession such as health care professionals, social workers, people who work with the homeless, victims of crimes, in geriatric care, and even therapists!
Compassion fatigue has been described as the “cost of caring” for others in emotional pain. It is the emotional toll that working in a field that requires great empathy can take, leaving you feeling like you have been emotionally depleted – you have nothing left to give. This is sometimes also referred to as burnout, but burnout doesn’t usually affect your capacity to empathize and feel compassion for others in the way that compassion fatigue does.
Symptoms & signs of compassion fatigue
- Feeling mentally exhausted
- Emotional apathy
- Seeking isolation
- Intrusive thoughts and images
- Reduced sense of accomplishment particularly where grief work is involved
- Feeling overly sensitive or desensitized to stories of suffering
- Resentment towards the people you help
- Decreased work performance
- Feeling hopeless or cynical
- Inability to function
- Physical exhaustion
- Overwhelming and ongoing fatigue
- Sleeping difficulties
- Weight loss or gain
When is it time to get help?
If you are experiencing the symptoms of compassion fatigue, you work in a field that involves caring for people in crisis, there is a high level of burnout or compassion fatigue amongst your colleagues, and you find it harder and harder to go into work or to go about your day – then it’s time to seek support. Left untreated and without change, compassion fatigue can lead to depression, anxiety, PTSD, and even make you more susceptible to suicidal thoughts. The most important thing to remember is that suffering from compassion fatigue does not make you a bad person. It does, however, mean that you should seek treatment.
Compassion fatigue treatment methods
There are several therapies that have been shown to be effective in treating compassion fatigue. Your therapist will talk with you to determine the best option for you and your individual needs. Common treatments include:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based approach to treatment that focuses on how people’s thoughts, emotions, and beliefs influence their behaviour and how they perceive themselves.
- Grief work therapy refers to the methods used in counselling that help people to grieve loss and understand their emotions associated with the loss in a healthy way, with the ultimate goal of moving forward.
- Eye movement desensitization reprocessing therapy (EMDR) is defined by EMDR Canada as an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma and many other mental health problems that utilized bilateral eye stimulation or somatic responding.
- Existential therapy is focused on providing the client with a greater understanding of themselves including self-development and self-awareness. This therapy works on the individual’s unique set of choices and the meaning behind them, making them aware they can’t blame their decisions and the repercussions entirely on past conditioning and/or genetics.
- Person centered therapy differs from more traditional therapeutic approaches in the belief that, while the therapist has expertise in many areas, the client is the expert on themselves and their lived experiences. People are essentially trustworthy and have a vast potential for understanding themselves while also being able to ultimately resolve their own problems when guided properly.
What will I get out of treatment with Insight Psychological?
It is possible to recover from compassion fatigue. You can learn how to heal with tips, coping tools, and therapeutic treatments so that you can feel more like your former self. Therapy can also help you to be aware of your personal warning signs of compassion fatigue and to prevent them from escalating. Our therapists have knowledge and experience treating clients with compassion fatigue and we’d be honoured to support you on your journey to improved mental wellness. Contact us to learn more or book online.
 (Figley, 1982).