Compassion Fatigue or a Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder

Subject: Psychiatry
Pages: 7
Words: 1654
Reading time:
7 min
Study level: Bachelor


Feelings can differentiate people from other living beings because we may express our emotions on different event happening with us or people around with regard to rules of conduct and intellectual politeness. As the work of some people is connected to the interactions with others in terms of cooperation or help, it is necessary to control your emotion for your interlocutors may find your reaction rude or inappropriate which would not help either your work or their condition. Compassion fatigue is a type of secondary traumatic stress disorder which can be characterised with reducing of compassion that can be attributed to the victims of trauma or people that help the latter to cope with their trauma.

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Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder

As a rule, people cannot define the problem by themselves; in this case, they are likely to apply to appeal to professionals that deal with healing of secondary traumatic disorders.

Definition of compassion fatigue

The compassion fatigue is the mental and physical condition of a person when he or she feels nothing or little towards people suffering from disasters or crises. As a rule, it is considered as the inability to react sympathetically to a crisis, disaster, or disaster because of overexposure to previous crises and disasters. Figley (1995, p. XVI) suggests a brief definition of compassion fatigue when “people not directly at risk in traumatic situations nevertheless can become traumatised – that knowing and especially treating someone who is traumatised is the systemic connector that links the traumatic feelings and emotions of the primary to the secondary ‘victims’.” As the stress is a distinctive feature of people that are in strained conditions at work and in the home place, it is obvious that people around them can start experiencing certain stress because of interacting with traumatised people. Figley (1995) introduces the most appropriate definition of the compassion fatigue: “the formal caregiver’s reduced capacity or interest in being empathic or ‘bearing the suffering of clients’ and is ‘the natural consequent behaviors and emotions resulting from knowing about a traumatizing event experienced or suffered by a person’.”(cited in Adams, Boscarino, & Figley, 2006, p.105) Counsellors are at risk of experiencing the same stress because they can deal with clients that suffer from certain disorders with regard to previous trauma. Compassion fatigue can be treated as “… an occupational hazard, which means that almost everyone who cares about their patients/clients will eventually develop a certain amount of it, to varying degrees of severity” (Mathieu, 2007, p.1).


The compassion fatigue can be characterised by different symptoms which are easy to recognise especially by using the scale of assessing compassion fatigue and compassion satisfaction as integral parts of the stress related to dealing with other people’s problems. The disorder can be considered a stressful condition when a person feels physical, psychological, and emotional tension and choice conflict (Brammer, 1985, as paraphrased in Manthei, 1997, p.151). Moreover,

Burnout and compassion fatigue are concepts that describe the responses experienced by those dealing with difficult patients. It may be useful to distinguish between burnout and compassion fatigue, as early recognition of compassion fatigue may prevent burnout (Benson & Magraith, 2005, p.497).

As the burnout is the next level of stress in terms of the compassion fatigue, it is necessary to differentiate between these two concepts. Without healing one it is impossible to heal another.

History of the disorder

First reports on this disorder date the middle of the twentieth century, though people did not know about stress and other psychological problems faced by people that work with other people. “Although the psychological consequences of providing social support and care to traumatized individuals have been noted for over 2 decades, relatively few studies have focused on formal caregivers (i.e., therapists, child protection workers, nurses, etc.) and their emotional response to dealing with traumatized clients” (Figley, 1995, paraphrased in Adams, Boscarino, & Figley, 2006, p.104). All the results and researches that can be actually analysed have been produced in the period from the last two decades of the twentieth century and up to now when different disasters demonstrate credibility of the previously established theories.

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Symptoms of the Disorder

As any health disorder, compassion fatigue has its symptoms which are easy to recognise. Sometimes people do not even guess that they suffer from secondary traumatic stress disorder; you can draw this person’s attention to the common symptoms of this disorder.

Ways to recognise it

The compassion fatigue has a number of signs and symptoms that can be easily recognized; Ginter (2010) suggests different aspects, suchlike physical, cognitive, emotional, spiritual, and behavioural effects that can be traced in a person suffering from compassion fatigue, whereas, Mathieu (2007) considers all signs of the compassion fatigue as a set of symptoms which can be treated as the most characteristic features of this stress disorder.

Methods that can be used to heal it

You can use methods suggested in the video provided by Foundationcoaching (2008) where the authors of it suggests people with stress disorders to drink more water, eat well, smile and laugh every day, exercise brain and body, and assess the events in day-to-day life positively. It is necessary to relax more and not think that your job is the most urgent in the world. People that have learned how to relax can be considered successful. When dealing with traumatised clients, try to be objective instead of being compassionate; do not accumulate all their problems like a sponge, you should learn how to get rid of negative emotions. It is like rebooting the computer when you accumulate some information during the day and then concentrate on your life, and not your client’s one.

Self Test Professional Quality of Life Scale (ProQOL)

Different tests allow people to learn something new about their character, habits, and inclinations, though it can be used to assess your compassion fatigue and satisfaction as well. The current test is a method to evaluate your compassion satisfaction, burnout, and secondary traumatic stress (Stamm, 2009, p.2).


The test consists of thirty questions concerning your interrelations with other people within the last thirty days. The grades include five marks, each of them has a definition: one is for never (this means that you did not experience anything similar within the last thirty days), two is for rarely, three means sometimes, four stands for often, and five is for very often. The list of questions is followed by the explanation of your scores in the test and their meaning. It is necessary to give answers to all issues of the test because all of them matter in the further consideration. The next step is to sort the question as all of them are meaningful for different assessment scales. As a rule, it is better when you can objectively assess your state without cheating, otherwise you should ask someone to ask you those questions, take notes on your answers, and give the final grade.


Three components of the test consider various conditions of your psychological condition. The first aspect concerns the compassion satisfaction and you are a professional that is absolutely satisfied due to capability to help others if you get the highest grade or, at least, a grade which is higher than 57. The second aspect concerns the burnout as a part of compassion fatigue; “If your score is below 18, this probably reflects positive feelings about your ability to be effective in your work” (Stamm, 2009, p.3). The third component presupposes the discussion of secondary traumatic stress where “an indication that you may want to examine how you feel about your work and your work environment” (Stamm, 2009, p.3) is the highest grade.

Helpful videos

The videos on the internet suggest analysis and discussion of stress, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and extreme steps to self care (Kaitysmom0326, 2008; Lauralipsky, 2009; Foundationcoaching, 2008). These video files can be considered helpful because people not being aware of health disorders, suchlike compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma can learn more about these stressful conditions and decide to appeal to a professional.

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Different people who are engaged into exploration on compassion fatigue and various stresses which helps people to analyse their feeling, emotions, and satisfaction without walking out the house are cited in the video provided by Kaitysmom0326 (2008). The source also provides the viewers with ten actions that can be useful in order to care for yourself

Compassion fatigue for counsellors

Counsellors are people that are engaged into work with other people, they help them by means of listening, advising, or empathising with their patients, “mental health workers are vulnerable to physical and psychological consequences when dealing with the traumatic life events of others” (Marcus & Dubi, 2006, p.223). Sometimes the problems of patients or clients become the problems of their own and, in this case, it is necessary to take steps, as “[f]or counsellors, (such) stress can impair their personal and professional functioning” (Manthei, 1997, p.151).

Activities to heal the compassion fatigue

As suggested in different sources representing the discussion, evaluation, and possible ways of treatment (Foundationcoaching, 2008; Ginter, 2010; Mathieu, 2007), it is necessary to establish a set of rules or a certain toolkit to help yourself because your mental health and stable psychological condition are extremely important while dealing with other people’s problems.


The compassion fatigue can be also called secondary traumatic stress disorder. It is a common aspect of life of people that are engaged into dealing with other people, especially those that have experienced trauma. The phenomenon was not analysed until the second half of the twentieth century. Actually, the results of the research have appeared to be traced in people that experience dissatisfaction because of their work where they help people with trauma. Most recommendations contain positive evaluation of the situation. The test on compassion satisfaction and fatigue can help you to recognise or to realise the problems that should be solved in terms of your psychological stability.


Kaitysmom0326. (2008). Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma [Video file]. Web.

Lauralipsky. (2009). Trauma Stewardship [Video file]. Web.

Foundationcoaching. (2008). The First 10 Steps to Extreme Self Care [Video file]. Web.

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Figley, C. R. (1995). Compassion Fatigue: Coping With Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder in Those Who Treat the Traumatized. London: Psychology Press, 1995

Manthei, R. J. (1997). Counselling: The Skills of Finding Solutions to Problems. London: Routledge

Benson, J. & Magraith, K. (2005). Compassion fatigue and burnout: the role of Balint groups. Australian Family Physician 34(6), 497-498. Web.

Mathieu, F. (2007). Running on empty: compassion fatigue in health professionals. Rehab & Community Care Medicine. Web.

Adams, R. E., Boscarino, J. A., & Figley, C. R. (2006). Compassion fatigue and psychological distress among social workers: a validation study. Am J Orthopsychiatry, 76(1), 103-108. Web.

Ginter, C. 2010. Compassion: opportunities and challenges. The Solution Source, 14(1), 1-4. Web.

Marcus, S., & Dubi, M. (2006). The relationship between resilience and compassion fatigue in counselors. 223-225. Web.

Stamm, B. H. 2009. Professional Quality of Life: Compassion Satisfaction and Fatigue Version 5 (ProQOL). Web.