FAQs: Compassion fatigue


What is compassion fatigue, and how can you identify your risk? Serena Wadhwa, PsyD, LCPC, CADC, an expert on stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue in Chicago, offers answers to help team members identify and manage the emotional demands of veterinary practice.

Q: Compassion sounds like a good trait. So can too much be bad?

A: Too much compassion isn't bad. It's when we don't care for ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually that we suffer. If following the tips to improve your physical, emotional, and professional health doesn't resolve your compassion fatigue, seek a professional who can help you improve your quality of life and reconnect you to your values and purpose.

Q: Are those in the healthcare field at greater risk? If so, why?

A: People who don't listen to themselves or maintain a healthy support system become more vulnerable to compassion fatigue. Advocating for animals' care and their right to be treated with respect and dignity may place you at risk. And those who advocate for other people may be at greater risk because they've probably experienced an event that inspired them to help reduce others' suffering.

Q: What makes someone vulnerable to compassion fatigue?

A: People with unresolved issues or those who demonstrate sympathy more than empathy, struggle to separate themselves from others' problems, or don't care for themselves or listen to their own voice may be more vulnerable.

You also may place yourself at risk if you seek to inspire change or set unrealistic expectations about what you can accomplish.

Q: What are the most common symptoms of compassion fatigue?

A: The symptoms may resemble signs of chronic stress or burnout, such as fatigue and changes in appetite or sleep patterns. In addition, team members experiencing compassion fatigue may notice they don't want to work directly with clients or pets anymore. They may prefer activities that don't involve caring, such as training new team members. These people may have lost their passion, question the purpose of their job or life, or feel depersonalized, numb, or disconnected.

Q: How is compassion fatigue different from other conditions, such as depression or burnout?

A: Compassion fatigue is exhaustion with acute emotional and spiritual pain. Compassion fatigue can lead to depression if you lose the values, ideals, and compassion that sustained you.

On the other hand, a condition like depression can be described as an extreme form of hopelessness and negativity. Those with clinical depression typically suffer from negative views of themselves and the world, often throughout their lives. An upsetting event like loss can also cause depression. The condition can be managed through medication and therapy.

Burnout is physical depletion from chronic stress. The body exhausts all physical resources to help the person cope during times of extreme stress. As a result, some symptoms, like chronic fatigue and some gastrointestinal problems, may result from this condition. If you suffer from symptoms of any of these conditions, it's important to seek care immediately.

Q: If untreated, what's the likely outcome of compassion fatigue?

A: Most people lose themselves in destructive behaviors, such as eating, drinking, or smoking to excess, and some may engage in self-injury or risk-taking behaviors. They may try to escape or relocate, but it doesn't heal the real issues and often can lead to other problems, such as depression, substance abuse, or eating or sleeping disorders.

Q: Can you care about others and still protect yourself?

A: Absolutely. Our society still promotes catering to others' needs first, particularly for women. It's important to realize caring for yourself is a way to protect your values and well-being so you can help others.

Recent Videos
Managing practice caseloads
Nontraditional jobs for veterinary technicians
Angela Elia, BS, LVT, CVT, VTS (ECC)
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.