What Is Compassion Fatigue?

I believe compassion fatigue is a normal response to being overwhelmed and under-supported. We all need differing levels of support, depending on the particular season of life we are in, as well as our personal histories and challenges.

Compassion fatigue is also known as:

  • secondary trauma

  • vicarious trauma

  • caregiver burnout

Compassion fatigue occurs among:

  • parents and caregivers of individuals with high needs

  • those with helper and/or rescue careers

  • anyone in a position of hearing about or witnessing other’s trauma

    (Babbels, 2012; Mathieu, 2007)

Compassion fatigue symptoms often include:

  • exhaustion (both physical and mental)

  • sleep disturbances and other somatic (bodily) complaints

  • blurring of boundaries between self and work/person being cared for (over-involvement)

  • sense of detachment

  • constantly feeling stressed or anxious

  • loss of pleasure/interest

  • negativity or callousness towards those you are caring for

  • decrease self care and increased unhealthy coping (i.e. drugs and alcohol, food)

    (Babbels, 2012; Mathieu, 2007)

Treatment for compassion fatigue may include:

  • foundational lifestyle changes (Mathieu, 2007)

  • creating a support system in your life (Mathieu, 2007)

  • improving your ability to identify and communicate your own needs

  • targeting stressors and developing specific skills cope with them in the moment (Babbels, 2012; Mathieu, 2007)

  • therapy (Mathieu, 2007)

  • dealing with unresolved personal issues/trauma

  • changes at the organizational (Mathieu, 2007) or family levels


Babbel, S. (2012). Compassion fatigue: Bodily symptoms of empathy. Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/somatic-psychology/201207/compassion-fatigue

Mathieu, F. (2007). Running on empty: Compassion fatigue in health professionals. Article found at: http://www.compassionfatigue.org/pages/RunningOnEmpty.pdf

Cora McLachlan