What is Compassion Fatigue?

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  • Written By: Alex Paul
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2019
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Compassion fatigue is a condition where an individual gradually becomes less compassionate towards a certain medical or social circumstance. This is usually caused by repeated exposure to suffering or pain over a period of time, which is common amongst care workers and other health professionals. Aside from a lack of compassion, the person suffering from compassion fatigue may also lose hope and find it more difficult to experience pleasure in helping a patient or person in need of care. Treatment for compassion fatigue involves counseling either individually or in a group setting.

Many professions have an increased risk of suffering from compassion fatigue. For example, rescue workers who repeatedly have to help people in difficult situations may become less compassionate toward the people they’re trying to save. The condition was originally diagnosed in a group of nurses but has since been found to affect a wide range of professions including doctors, teachers, counselors and veterinarians. It is most common amongst people whose profession involves caring for sick, ill or injured people.

The primary symptom of the condition is a decreased sympathy for a situation that would usually invoke compassionate feelings. There are others, however, that can have a greater effect on the sufferer’s everyday life. These can include an increase in stress or anxiety levels, a feeling of hopelessness and a willingness to become isolated from friends and family. The sufferer may also find it difficult to concentrate and have problems communicating his or her feelings.


Treatment usually involves counseling to find out what is causing the problem and how it can be fixed. The exact treatment will depend on the individual’s feelings and situation. In most cases the overall goal is to help the person to return to his or her job with an increased desire to help the people who are sick or need care. Therapy by a trained professional is important for the future outlook of someone suffering from compassion fatigue, which is also commonly called empathy fatigue, as it can lead to severe depression and other mental problems.

Although compassion fatigue is a condition that usually affects individuals there is also some evidence that it can affect entire countries or regions. This can be seen when repeated exposure to a tragic news story renders the general public unable to feel compassion towards the victims. The same can be observed when a particular charity uses compassionate advertisements for a long period of time.


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