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Support: Dealing with Stress in the Workplace

Compassion Fatigue [2.10.3.b]

Compassion fatigue, (also known as a secondary traumatic stress disorder or vicarious traumatization), is a term that refers to a gradual lessening of compassion over time. It is common among victims of trauma and individuals that work directly with victims of trauma. It was first diagnosed in nurses in the 1950s. Sufferers can exhibit symptoms including hopelessness, a decrease in experiences of pleasure, constant stress and anxiety, and a pervasive negative attitude. This can have detrimental effects on individuals, both professionally and personally, including a decrease in productivity, inability to focus, and development of new feelings of incompetency and self-doubt[1].
An overview of the different definitions of stressors relating to behavioral health workers includes compassion fatigue, burnout, and countertransference.

The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project©, is dedicated to educating caregivers about authentic, sustainable self-care and it provides an overview of compassion fatigue. It offers many resources and original training materials, workbooks, and texts through its parent organization, Healthy Caregiving LLC.

Another introductory review of what compassion fatigue is and how to combat it is done by Beverly Smallwood, Ph.D.

According to J. Eric Gentry, MA (Ph.D. Candidate), LMHC, CTS, CAC, the co-developer of the Accelerated Recovery Program for Compassion Fatigue and the Certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist Training Program, there are five stage of Compassion Fatigue:
  • The Zealot Phase
  • The Irritability Phase
  • The Withdrawal Phase
  • The Zombie Phase
  • Pathology vs. Renewal/Maturation
Gentry explains his Accelerated Recovery Program for Compassion Fatigue in a presentation.
Overcoming Compassion Fatigue is an informative article that defines compassion fatigue, how to recognize it, causes of it, and how to deal with it.

Reflecting on the Concept of Compassion Fatigue, provides a review of literature on the health of nurses that leaves little doubt that their work takes a toll on their psychosocial and physical health and well-being. It explores two questions for discussion: 1) Does compassion fatigue exist on a continuum of occupational stress? If so, is burnout a pre-condition for compassion fatigue; 2) What are the relationships between the types of occupational stress?

Compassion Fatigue – Bodily Symptoms of Empathy discusses how medical professionals such as physicians, nurses, psychotherapists, and emergency workers who help traumatized patients may develop their own Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms as an indirect response to their patient’s suffering.

[1]Compassion Fatigue. (2009, March 17). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15:44, May 22, 2009, from

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