Fighting Compassion Fatigue without Wearing Out

Therapists are not newcomers to compassion fatigue. A lot of people assume that compassion is a baseline reaction that everyone naturally has, but that’s not always the case.

When you’re working in a field that requires you to show up with limitless compassion every day, it’s easy to burn out and get discouraged if you don’t have the right tools to treat compassion as a skill, rather than an emotional response.

After all, we all have a limit when it comes to caring for other people, especially when they push us!

First, consider compassion as a professional skill.

Just like being able to assess an injury or develop a treatment plan, this skill is improved upon with time, training, and practice. When uncooperative or combative patients test you, there are strategies you can rely on that will help you default back to compassion.

Separate your emotion from the task at hand.
Your feelings and emotions matter! It’s important to process your anger, frustration, or sadness once you’re out of the room. But when you’re face to face with a difficult patient it’s time to focus on their emotions. Take a minute to reflect on the life events that lead them here. Remember, there are complex trauma effects they’re likely processing that may make them more difficult to handle.

Get curious.
When you’re at a loss for how to talk with a patient, just start asking questions. The questions may be as simple as, “How do you feel?” The more you show you care about what a person is actually experiencing, the more they’ll start to trust you. Asking questions and listening intently to their responses is an excellent place to start.

Remember their humanity.
Anger turns into contempt when we forget that the person we’re frustrated with is human. Practice focusing on a person’s whole humanity - their strengths, their emotions, their mental well-being, and their right to kindness. This one sounds like a no-brainer, but forgetting other people’s humanity happens often. It’s why people fight so easily over politics! They categorize the opposition as the “enemy” rather than as a human who deserves compassion.

Remove guilt from the equation.
When you hit your wits’ end, remember that’s normal. People and situations will push you. When feelings around compassion fall to the wayside, that’s when you lean on the skillset you’ve built. It’s not about an emotional failing, it’s about developing the skill to act compassionately when your emotions are urging you to give up.

As you walk through the advice above, separating your emotions from the task at hand, getting curious, and remembering humanity, give yourself grace! The fact that you’re actively working on building this skill is admirable.

Prioritize self-awareness.
Make sure you’re taking care of your own mental and emotional health outside of work so that you’re equipped to focus on your patients at work.

Start by knowing your own triggers and working to develop strategies to handle those when they appear on the job. It can help A LOT to work with a therapist or other mental health professional to recognize your specific triggers and create strategies that work for you.

Don’t be afraid to set boundaries. Your most difficult patients aren’t likely practicing and prioritizing compassion like you are. They should also recognize your humanity and treat you with kindness and respect. When they don’t, it’s okay to set firm and professional boundaries. If they throw a temper tantrum or say something derogatory, you should let them know that their behavior is inappropriate. If you ever feel violated or in danger, it is your employer’s responsibility to step in.

Last but certainly not least, take care of yourself! Invest in your own health and happiness on your days off, surround yourself with positive people, bring healthy treats you love to work so that you have little bits of sunshine to look forward to throughout the day.

Compassion-based careers are difficult. Never forget how amazing you are for choosing to spend your career helping others heal!


Don’t forget, the Elevated Care Conference is coming up in just a couple months! Treating compassion as a skill is one of the keynote topics we’ll be covering in-depth. Sign up before early bird prices are gone!

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published