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  • Writer's pictureKaren Peabody, LICSW

Caregivers: Are You Experiencing Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue is when caregivers begin to physically and emotionally feel the suffering of the people for whom they care for. Compassion fatigue is also when caregivers mirror the suffering of patients. The symptoms can be experienced physically, but caregivers are usually suffering the emotional pain of their patients. This can happen rapidly to caregivers if:

  • they have a sudden influx of critically ill patients

  • life and workloads become overwhelming

  • they do not have the knowledge or supplies to care for their patients

  • their patients frequently die

Caregivers start to feel as if they are not doing enough to help. They can also feel that they are not skilled enough to care for their patients. These feelings lead to caregivers becoming focused on trying to assist. Their personal lives begin to be affected by their emotional struggle to help their patients. Caregivers can become emotionally distraught with people whom they perceive are contributing to their patients' suffering.

Caregivers can suffer in different ways but common symptoms may include:

  • irritability

  • tearfulness

  • restlessness

  • depression

  • loss of appetite

  • sleep loss

  • headaches

Caregivers can also emotionally become distant from their partners, lose interest in sexual activity, and become intensely focused on their patients' issues.

Compassion Fatigue can often get confused with burn out, however, there are distinct differences.

Compassion Fatigue can happen very quickly (within 1 month) and is usually found with people who work with patients that are suffering. Charles R. Figley has done extensive work on the topic of Compassion Fatigue.

You can take this Self Test to determine if you could be suffering from Compassion Fatigue. This is a treatable condition and the best indicator for recovery is awareness ❤.

If you feel you may benefit from speaking with a therapist, please contact us to request an appointment.

Karen Peabody, LICSW is a therapist and business consultant for social workers and therapists interested in starting their private practice. She founded Forgewell Solutions in East Bridgewater, MA. Her office is a great place to start a private practice. Visit her FOR THERAPISTS page to learn more.


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