Combating Compassion Fatigue


Compassion fatigue and burnout are common problems in the health care profession. As a result, the quality of medical care provided to patients is affected. Thus, it is important to understand the nature of problems, causes and invent necessary coping strategies. This report develops a brief analysis of the warning signs of compassion fatigue, and the nature of problems associated. In addition, the paper will analyze the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of a caregiver, and possible coping strategies.

According to Lombardo & Eyre (2011), compassion fatigue is a blend of “physical, emotional, and spiritual depletion associated with caring for patients in significant emotional pain and physical distress” (para.1). It is a distinctive model of burnout that affects caregivers. Researchers have developed a number of theories to explain possible causes and symptoms (Lombardo & Eyre, 2011; Portnoy, 2011). Nevertheless, it is significant to mention that, the occurrence of burnout possibly increases the growth of compassion fatigue; thus, some exhibited symptoms may be exchangeable. Warning signs include physical, work-related and emotional symptoms. A number of issues, including role definition and overload, relationships between caregivers and care recipients, lack of reward, a breakdown in community, lack of fair treatment at work, and value conflict, causes these signs.

Relationships between caregivers’ and patients possibly trigger compassion fatigue. Lombardo & Eyre (2011) suggests that healthy relationships between caregivers and patients are the foundations of nursing. As a result, caregivers develop relationships based on nursing whose consequences may be lead to compassion fatigue. Caregivers identify with patient’s feelings and sufferings, and communicate this awareness to the patient, hence creating an empathetic relationship that may lead to compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue can also be caused by the caregiver’s relationships with themselves, patients, and their colleagues within a clinical environment. In most cases, nurses express feelings of empathy towards others and do not care about their wellbeing. Consequently, caregivers are overworked, suffer from depression, and fatigue due to deficiency of rest. Health care providers also expose themselves to compassion fatigue when the care they provide does not save a patient. Therefore, they produce feelings of unworthiness and hopelessness as they believe they are unable to proffer help to their patients.

Nature of Problems associated with Compassion Fatigue

Research studies reveal that similarities exist between the symptoms exhibited by burnout and compassion fatigue (Portnoy, 2011; Lombardo & Eyre, 2011). Most of the symptoms associated with burnout correlate to the health professionals and their study surroundings. Therefore, symptoms associated with burnout crop up due to the roles of caregivers and their relationships with fellow colleagues at work. Caregivers suffering from role definition issues feel unconfident in their responsibilities. They also display symptoms that drive them away from the working environment or the patients. For instance, some caregivers may frequently absent themselves from duty or use more sick days and offs to be away from stresses while others opt to hold off from certain departments and patients. Nevertheless, it is significant to mention that, in acute cases, caregivers decrease their empathy towards patients (Lombardo & Eyre, 2011).

Caregivers suffering from role overload and conflict often handle situations beyond their capabilities and attend to all types of duties. Consequently, they are prone to work-related stresses and may demonstrate symptoms of uneasiness, irritability, depression, anger and resentment, sleep disruptions, headaches, loss of objectivity, poor absorption, and in extreme cases, cardiac symptoms. Lack of reward is likewise an ingredient that causes a great deal of suffering and depression to caregivers. When caregivers are underpaid and not rewarded, they feel unappreciated and may exhibit depressive symptoms and lack of interest in the work. There are numerous levels of conflicts among caregivers that may be exhibited through anger, resentment, anxiety, oversensitivity, irritability and excessive use of substances. Conflicts may also arise when caregivers are requested to perform tasks that are against their personal values or are unethical. Personal conflicts also rise and care workers can be their own enemies, creating tension in the workplace. Therefore, burnout causes withdrawal, coldness, and a detachment of caregivers from the work environment and patients leading to Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD).

Compassion fatigue is a secondary projection of work-associated stress that exhibits emotional symptoms precipitated by over involvement in patient care. Primarily, empathy is the main cause of compassion fatigue. Research studies suggest that compassion fatigue is an inherent outcome ensuing from caring for and handling suffering patients (Portnoy, 2011). Authors and caregivers Lombardo & Eyre (2011) classify compassion fatigue as the union of primary and secondary stresses in care provision. Symptoms displayed include, mood swings, loss of meaning and hope, memory issues, economic crisis, reduced empathy and irritability. According to Lombardo & Eyre (2011), compassion fatigue mostly occurs in patient care situations, in which, nurses may have beliefs that their nursing procedures are insufficient or do not generate positive results. Nurses also have work related problems like, heavy assignments, extra workdays and over time. In addition, overlooked significant patient symptoms and personal issues associated to the psychological and physical health of caregivers can cause compassion fatigue.

Physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the caregiver

Caregivers have the rights to ensure that they physically, spiritually and emotionally meet their own wellness needs. When faced with trying situations and anxiety, caregivers may need help from counseling and social support services. Caregivers should have access to all basic human needs, including food, shelter and clothing. During work, caregivers consume a lot of energy; hence, it would be hard to care for the sick with a hungry stomach. Eating balanced diets also help in keeping caregivers healthy and protects them from the effects of stress. Enough rest is also an important need that keeps caregivers physically fit throughout their work shifts. Thus, health care providers need to take rests and have enough rest. Deficiency of enough sleep may contribute to severe health problems and tiredness. They also need to break from their duties and relax their minds.

To maintain emotional stability at work, caregivers need emotional support services through guidance and counseling in places of employment. When providing care, emotional problems may cause tension and ill health. Hence, health care providers should develop avenues to handle everyday stressors. They also need friendly working conditions that are not prone to strain, and access to self-help services that may assist them reduce work-related stress. It is significant to mention that, caregivers also have spiritual needs that create them see their significance, and purpose of life, as well as that of their patients. Spirituality needs play an important role in guiding caregivers through their roles in providing care to patients. Therefore, health care providers need to have access to hospital chaplaincy for spiritual assistance. This also enables them not merely to interpret the spiritual demands of their patients, but also to understand their spiritual opinions and needs.

Strategies to Cope with Compassion Fatigue

Lombardo & Eyre (2011) believe that, guidance and professional counseling reduces compassion fatigue in the nursing profession. This calls for the development of personal intervention plans that help affected caregivers. Personally, I would make use of the following strategies:

  1. Develop and practice personal and professional mission statements that focus on self-sustaining goals.
  2. Learn skills that help me to deal with stress responses. These skills include boundary setting, self-soothing, cognitive restructuring, and self care.
  3. Have meaningful conversations every day. This creates an avenue to talk about feelings. In addition, talking to friends about challenges faced at work minimizes possible effects of stress.
  4. Spend some time alone meditating and praying. Meditation would help me to obtain spiritual gratification, and achieve of inner balance. Prayers would help me seek spiritual guidance.
  5. Review resources available in the work setting that would help me handle any stressing situation professionally. This would include approaching the Employee Assistance Program for counseling and support. I would also seek advice from a mentor or an experienced nurse and identify possible approaches to cope with work situations.
  6. Seek pastoral care for spiritual nourishment. This would give me insights on how to meet spiritual needs of patients and their families, and other staff members.
  7. Attend staff conferences and trainings that offer education on how to cope with work-related challenges.


Lombardo, B., & Eyre, C. (2011). Compassion Fatigue: A Nurse’s Primer. The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 16 (1), Web.

Portnoy, D. (2011). Health Progress. Journal of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, 2 (1), 47-50. Web.

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