Burnout Vs Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue has similar symptoms to burnout. Compassion fatigue is a preoccupation with absorbing trauma and emotional stresses of others, and this creates a secondary traumatic stress in the helper. Compassion fatigue can be defined as the emotional residue of exposure of working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events. The prolonged exposure from listening to clients’ traumatic stories makes you susceptible to compassion fatigue and is not always easily identifiable.

Burnout is about being ‘worn out’ and can affect any profession. The impacts of burnout emerge gradually over time and are easily identified to direct links and stressors within the working and personal life. Things that inspire passion, drive and enthusiasm are stripped away as tedious, unpleasant thoughts take over.

The differentiating factor between the two types of stresses: burnout emerged over time and compassion fatigue if identified and managed early has a faster recovery time. Unhelpful and unhealthy coping strategies can be triggers for burnout some of these include:

  • Work longer hours
  • Don’t delegate
  • Don’t take breaks
  • Don’t say no
  • Bottle up feelings
  • Procrastinate and avoid
  • Be a perfectionist
  • Take work home
  • Take on social justice issues
  • Take on issues
  • Don’t talk about it
  • Squeeze out hobbies

Secondary trauma is the emotional and psychological effects experienced through indirect exposure to the details of the traumatic experiences of others. Similarly, vicarious trauma is the cumulative transformative effect upon the professional who is working with survivors of traumatic life events.

Download ProQOL – self assessment for burnout and compassion fatigue


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