What is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue is defined as a risk and or possible outcome related to over-identification with traumatic stories and suffering of individuals. Individuals in the helping professions (e.g., teachers, nurses) are often exposed to difficult and or traumatic life stories in their day-to-day professional interactions with little opportunity to process the experience and or experiences.  Providing compassionate care, empathetically attuning to others can create emotional and physical vulnerabilities. While not directly involved in the experience, the helping professional can still be emotionally affected.  Emotional problems can arise if respondents to traumatic events do not have an opportunity to process the events, giving space to thoughts and physical sensations that may arise related to listening or witnessing elements of a trauma story.  Emotional problems may present in these ways;

  • Diminished and dulled affect (emotional expression)
  • Loss of interest in normal day-to-day activities
  • Persistent arousal such as having difficulty sleeping and concentrating
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Avoidance or numbing of reminders of the story or event
  • Reexperiencing the traumatic events in dreams or daydreams