Compassion Fatigue, Burnout, and Related Issues


Every health care provider need to be concerned about burnout and compassion fatigue because of the detrimental effects on the well-being. Compassion fatigue, a special type of burnout, does not only affect the physical well being of the caregiver, but also emotional, psychological, economical, and social aspects of health. Compassion fatigue and burnout can be professionally devastating since the patients are affected. The patients are at risk of receiving care that is of poor quality. The etiologies of compassion fatigue are unavoidable. It is hard for the caregiver to recognize burnout unless one is aware of it. In this paper, compassion fatigue and burnout is analyzed with a focus on concepts, warning signs, cause, needs of the caregiver, and coping strategies.

Concepts and Warning Signs

Compassionate fatigue and burnout occur when the caregiver’s restorative processes are less than the compassionate energies (Potter et al., 2010). Compassionate energy is used when the caregiver develop a symbiotic relationship with patients and gain pleasure helping them. With time, the caregiver become exhausted and experience burnout. Compassionate fatigue develops gradually. Day & Anderson (2011) asserted that it begin with compassion discomfort, then compassion stress, and finally compassion fatigue.

The concepts of compassion fatigue depend on the affected aspects of health and they include somatic, cognitive, emotional, behavioral, spiritual, and intellectual (Melvin, 2012). The somatic concept means that the physical being of the caregiver is affected. The warning signs are exhaustion, headache, insomnia, and breathing difficulties. The cognitive concept is an indication that the caregiver is experiencing psychological disturbances and the warning signs are inability to concentrate, apathy, and confusion (Potter et al., 2010).

The emotional concept revolves around the interference of the mood of the caregiver. The warning signs are depression, irritability, anger, and hopelessness. When the emotional reserves of the caregiver are depleted, the caregiver may become uncaring (Day & Anderson, 2011). Emotional depletion affects the behavior of the caregiver. In the behavioral concept, the warning signs are a change in eating habits, poor sleep patterns, and hyper-vigilance (Potter et al., 2010). With regard to the spiritual concept, the caregiver starts questioning religion and feel that there is no purpose of living (Melvin, 2012). The intellectual concept of compassion fatigue means that the caregiver cannot think critically and the warning signs are poor judgment, loss of memory, and disordered thinking (Day & Anderson, 2011).

The Cause

Potter et al. (2010) asserted that compassion fatigue is an outcome of stress. The burnout comes about when the caregiver is helping a traumatized patient. The caregiver is preoccupied with the patient’s trauma to such an extent that the traumatizing experience is always on the caregiver’s mind, even when the patient is away. According to Melvin (2012), compassion fatigue or burnout is experienced when the caregiver has prolonged and continuous contact with the patient. This means that the caregiver will develop a therapeutic relationship with the patient and with time, empathy as well as sympathy will set in, predisposing the caregiver to compassion fatigue.

Day & Anderson (2011) claimed that compassion fatigue is associated with personal factors and the condition of the patient. A caregiver will experience compassion fatigue depending on the personality and the work experience. It is difficult for a caregiver with a hardy personality and effective coping strategies to experience compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue or burnout is common in newly employed caregiver than in those with working experience (Potter et al., 2010). Certain patients’ conditions put the health caregiver at risk of developing compassion fatigue. Melvin (2012) reported that compassion fatigue is common when the caregiver is caring for patients with terminal conditions, and those with financial threat.

The Needs of the Caregiver

It is imperative that the needs of the caregivers are identified and maintained because at one time, a caregiver will experience compassion fatigue. It is highly significant that the caregiver attempt to maintain a balance between the physical, the emotional, the psychological, and the spiritual aspects of health (Day & Anderson, 2011). The physical needs of the caregiver are the need to rest and to meditate. The caregiver should have time off and relax so that the depleted physical energy can be restored (Potter et al., 2010). In order for the caregiver to feel loved, someone else needs to take the caring role as the caregiver relaxes.

The emotional need concerns the replenishment of the depleted emotions. Compassion fatigue involves a lot of emotional drainage because in the caring relationship with the patient, the caregiver is empathetic and at times sympathetic (Melvin, 2012). Sympathetic means that the caregiver is conscious about the distress of the patient and has a burning desire to alleviate the grief (Day & Anderson, 2011). It is evident that in order to avoid the emotional distress of the caregiver, there is need for giving the caregiver time to interact with other people apart from patients.

The caregiver need time to attend to the spiritual matters since spirituality is an important aspect of a person’s life. The caregiver should find time to participate in religious practices, as well as pray in order to be spiritually nourished (Potter et al., 2010). The caregiver need to protect his well being by satisfying the aforementioned needs so that the susceptibility to compassion fatigue can reduce. According to Melvin (2012), the caregiver should learn to maintain a balance between personal life and professionalism. A nurse need to perform a critical reflection in order to ensure that personal life is not being compromised by work.

Coping Strategies and the Resources

One of the coping strategies is a change of daily activities. Day & Anderson (2011) affirmed that simple activities such as eating well and having enough sleep can be beneficial to the body and the mind. The caregiver can perform regular exercises as it is known to reduce burnout and replenish the emotional energy lost during caring of the patient. The caregiver can engage in hypnotherapy, exercises that help one reflect on the daily activities (Potter et al., 2010). Via hypnotherapy, self awareness is created as self care is enhanced. This means that the hypnotherapy will help the caregiver to identify the warning signs of compassion fatigue and intervene accordingly. Self awareness is important as it help the caregiver understand those things that put one at risk of developing stress and avoid them.

Having conversations with other caregivers, family, and friends is another coping strategy because a problem shared is a problem half solved. When caregivers talk about their feelings, their appearance improves. Time spent sharing with family and friends help the caregiver to identify new ways of dealing with work issues (Melvin, 2012). This means that the caregiver should create adequate time to spend with other people other than the patient. A change of environment helps the caregiver to renew the depleted energy.

Day & Anderson (2011) contended that the caregiver should not make a critical decision such as quitting the job while experiencing the warning signs of compassion fatigue because the intellectual and cognitive health is affected by the burnout. The way forward is to speak with a professional such as a therapist, a religious leader, or a councilor. These people have experience in dealing with cognitive, emotional, somatic, social, and spiritual issues. Cautious planning and identification of warning signs of compassion fatigue is imperative. It is paramount for the caregiver to know when to intervene. This means that the caregiver require professional support from the management. The support can be in form of time off so that the caregivers can either rest or seek early intervention.

It is evident that the two important resources need by the caregiver to alleviate burnout and compassion fatigue are manpower and minutes. Manpower involves the people that are of significance to the caregiver such as the family and other health care providers. Minutes entails the time off that the caregiver requires to rest or participate in other activities.


Every caregiver is susceptible to compassion fatigue. The caregiver is always struggling to provide care to the patients who present with diverse problems that range from physical, social, financial, and emotional. The patients’ problem as well as work pressure stresses the caregiver who eventually develops compassion fatigue while trying to provide holistic care to patients. There is need for the caregiver to develop strategies of coping with compassion fatigue.


Day, J. R., & Anderson, R. A. (2011). Compassion fatigue: an application of the concept to informal caregivers of family members with dementia. Nursing Research and Practice, 40(2), 80-85.

Melvin, C. S. (2012). Professional compassion fatigue: what is the true cost of nurses caring for the dying? International Journal of Palliative Nursing, 18(12), 606–611.

Potter, P., Deshields, T., Divanbeigi, J., Berger, J., Cipriano, D., Norris, L., & Olsen, S. (2010). Compassion fatigue and burnout. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, 14(5), 56–62.