Who Cares for the Caretaker?
Compassion Fatigue and the Helping Professional
Helping others who experience trauma or suffering may be considered rewarding work; in fact, that’s why many people choose it as a career. However, as helping professionals can attest, it is not always without its emotional cost at the end of the day. A concept called compassion fatigue describes a serious condition with serious costs to individuals and organizations, both financial and personal.
Professions with a high risk of compassion fatigue include nurses/ healthcare workers, clergy, police officers, mental health professionals, social workers, hotline workers, and child/ adult protection service workers. Compassion fatigue is a well-researched concept that has real effects on workplace wellness. For example, one study from the Child Welfare Workforce Survey revealed a 22% annual turnover for child protection caseworkers in 43 states (1).
This high turnover affects operational costs, in addition to undermining organizational stability and decreasing cohesiveness among employees (2). At the personal level, workers suffering from compassion fatigue may experience depression, anxiety, and loss of sleep (3).
The good news is, organizations have the capability to battle compassion fatigue. Research shows that compassion satisfaction, or the positive benefit of working as a helping professional (4), may override compassion fatigue, or diminish its effects (2). Increasing employee emotional health opportunities, through targeted workshops and enhanced employee communication methods, increases staff confidence and engagement by teaching them the skills to navigate a job that can be ridden with emotional stress.
For helping professionals specifically, compassion fatigue may be an overlooked epidemic in the workplace. Building employee health and wellness programs crafted around specific employee health needs—be it physical, emotional, or otherwise—is one of the cornerstones to employee success in high stress work environments.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 828-214-7827 for more information on identifying then addressing your comprehensive employee health needs.
By Dr. Nikki Weiner, OTD, OTR/L
1. Cyphers, G. (2001). Report from the child welfare workforce survey: State and county data and findings. Washington, DC: American Public Human Services Association.
2. Conrad, D., & Kellar-Guenther, Y. (2006). Compassion fatigue, burnout, and compassion satisfaction among Colorado child protection workers. Child abuse & neglect, 30(10), 1071-1080.
3. Cerney, M. S. (1995). Treating the ‘heroic theaters’. In C. R. Figley (Ed.), Compassion fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress (pp. 131–149). London: Sage
4. Stamm, B. H. (2002). Measuring compassion satisfaction as well as fatigue: Developmental history of the compassion satisfaction and fatigue test. In C. R. Figley (Ed.), Treating compassion fatigue (pp. 107–119). New York: Brunner-Routledge.