How to prevent compassion fatigue

Compassion fatigue is common in caring professions. As therapists, we care for our clients by metaphorically and emotionally holding them in session whilst they share a part of their life journey so far. As the client's story unfolds, the therapist becomes a part of that journey - the validator, the compassionate human, an understanding person. We witness the unfolding of a difficult time in the client's life and are honoured to be a part of their story. Feeling empathic is a normal process.


As a therapist provides a compassionate space, clients can feel comfortable disclosing historical trauma or stress, with transference and countertransference occurring. This is where therapy and supervision provide a self-care service.


Having a few self-care ideas between clients can aid well-being. My favourite is gardening or dancing, and moving around between clients. You might like to refresh the room by opening a window, put on a favourite song to change the atmosphere, go to the gym, go for a walk, or meditate. All can aid you as a therapist.

Helping clients through times of stress, trauma and grief can require a lot of skills to ensure the client's safety and well-being; physical and emotional stress can begin to take its toll.

As compassion fatigue is secondary stress, the fatigue this causes can differ slightly from everyday stress, and regular self-care practice might not be enough for the most robust therapist.

Symptoms of compassion fatigue

Here are clues to compassion fatigue that the therapist might not be aware of:

  • body changes - rumbling stomach, aches and pains such as a headache developing 
  • feeling more emotional than normal
  • feeling less empathic and impatient with family or friends
  • overthinking
  • self-medicating
  • trouble remembering things
  • reduction in concentration
  • sleep issues
  • changes in eating habits
  • a sense of feeling detached from others
  • anxiety or depression 

Ways to cope with compassion fatigue

Where regular self-care does not ease the stress, this can be a clue to compassion fatigue, and a break from everyday routine might be necessary. Complete rest and support from friends and family will aid the healing process.

Therapy and supervision are essential to understand the process of how compassion fatigue began and help you to avoid it in the future, as it can impact self-esteem and motivation, and lead you to question yourself as a therapist. These are all normal reactions and correct time out from working with clients is a start to the healing process, contacting a doctor where anxiety or low mood appears unmanageable. 


Addressing how compassion fatigue started, working that through with a colleague, supervisor, or therapist can enable a healthier way forward. Consider:

  • Is the caseload too heavy? It can be easy to overcommit when you have a caring nature.
  • Is family pressure impacting work commitments? Do you need to delegate to remain healthy?
  • Is there enough space between clients? 30 minutes minimum is a healthier option than back-to-back clients.
  • Are clients placed in the correct order? Clients presenting with a lot of distress might need you as a therapist to take a little care of yourself to prevent overloading emotions. 
  • Are clients matching your skill set? Updating CPD is an essential part of being a healthy therapist. Referring clients to other agencies or directories to seek another therapist is OK. 

I hope this has given an insight into how to notice, cope and maintain well-being as a therapist to prevent compassion fatigue.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Burnley, Lancashire, BB11
Written by Sandra Williams, T.A.Psychotherapist/ supervisor at - The Therapists Chair
Burnley, Lancashire, BB11

I am a Transactional Analysis Psychotherapist in the Burnley area.
My background is in NHS health care, youth work and mental health. I work online and face-to-face.
Additionally, I provide meditation techniques for stress reduction

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