Compassion fatigue: Psychotherapists' chronic lack of self care


  • Charles R. Figley

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Social Work, Traumatology Institute Florida State University, Tallahassee
    • Charles R. Figley, Ph.D., Professor, School of Social Work and Director of the Traumatology Institute at Florida State University, 1303 Broome St., Tallahassee, FL 32301; telephone: (850) 656–7158; e-mail:
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Psychotherapists who work with the chronic illness tend to disregard their own self-care needs when focusing on the needs of clients. The article discusses the concept of compassion fatigue, a form of caregiver burnout among psychotherapists and contrasts it with simple burnout and countertransference. It includes a multi-factor model of compassion fatigue that emphasizes the costs of caring, empathy, and emotional investment in helping the suffering. The model suggests that psychotherapists that limiting compassion stress, dealing with traumatic memories, and more effectively managing case loads are effective ways of avoiding compassion fatigue. The model also suggests that, to limit compassion stress, psychotherapists with chronic illness need to development methods for both enhancing satisfaction and learning to separate from the work emotionally and physically in order to feel renewed. A case study illustrates how to help someone with compassion fatigue. © 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Clin Psychol/In Session 58: 1433–1441, 2002.