Predicting Compassion Fatigue and Burnout in Practitioners

By Rachel Dorman, MS & Heidi Radunovich, PhD

In previous posts we have discussed the importance of mental health providers protecting their own well-being by being aware of risks associated with compassion fatigue, secondary traumatic stress, and burnout. Today we will continue our discussion by looking at factors that may put one at risk or protect one from both compassion fatigue and burnout.

Candle burning on both ends
[Flickr, From Both Ends by gfpeck, CC BY-ND 2.0] Retrieved on September 17, 2015
Thompson, Amatea, and Thompson (2014) conducted an online survey to learn more about how gender, length of career, appraisal of working conditions, and personal resources relate to burnout and compassion fatigue among mental health counselors. The study consisted of 213 mental health or licensed professional counselors who completed a master’s degree in counseling, had been practicing for at least six months, and were working with clients 20 hours per week or more. Those practitioners who had positive working conditions, had worked in the field longer, and who used mindfulness were found to be less likely to experience compassion fatigue or burnout. However, maladaptive and emotion-focused coping were related to compassion fatigue and burnout. There did not appear to be a gender difference in report of burnout, but women were more likely to report compassion fatigue than men.

Papers stacked on desk
[Flickr, Ur doing it wrong by me and the sysop, CC BY-ND 2.0] Retrieved on September 17, 2015
The authors provide many recommendations for counselors and supervisors. They suggest that counselors who are working in a less supportive environment seek support from colleagues, work with their employers to try to improve working conditions, and do what they can to take care of themselves. Supervisors should be sensitive to the possibility of burnout and compassion fatigue among their supervisees, and should try to educate their supervisees on the nature of stress in the counseling relationship, as well as making sure that they are using effective coping strategies to deal with work stress. Finally, the researchers strongly encourage practitioners to explore positive coping strategies to offset the potential negative effects of job stress, such as using mindfulness. For more information on burnout and compassion fatigue check out our previous blogs: Self-care When Caring for Others or Self-care for the Military Family Advocate.


[1] Thompson, I., Amatea, E., & Thompson, E. (2014) Personal and contextual predictors of mental health counselors’ compassion fatigue and burnout. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 36(1), p. 58 – 77. ISSN: 1040-2861

This post was written by Rachel Dorman, M.S. and Heidi Radunovich, PhD, members of the MFLN Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on TwitterYouTube, and on LinkedIn.

0 Replies to “Predicting Compassion Fatigue and Burnout in Practitioners”

  1. An additional resource that may also be helpful on the topic of compassion fatigue for professionals is the recent ‘Caregiver Compassion Fatigue’ webinar. Professionals can receive continuing education credit while learning about the concept of compassion fatigue, it’s symptoms, and strategies to minimize negative impacts.

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