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Is it compassion fatigue--or burnout?

When I had to quit my job and take time off, I was so clouded in my head as to why that I couldn't put my finger on it--I just knew that I couldn't keep working.

So when I started to do the work to deconstruct what got me to that place, I realized that I had confused compassion fatigue and burnout.

What is the difference?

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue is the result of giving of oneself without adequate rest, recovery and renewal. It is a type of depleted feeling, both emotional and physical that is related to regularly caring for others. Compassion fatigue results in feeling less compassionate and having a lack of empathy for others. High levels of compassion fatigue is related to secondary traumatic stress. This is the result of caregiving for those who are in traumatic responses and is especially prevalent in first responders. Secondary traumatic stress is much like secondary PTSD--having symptoms of trauma due to witnessing others' traumatic responses.


Burnout, on the other hand, is a complex condition that is related to mind-body-spirit, cultural and systemic issues. Burnout is less about what you do or don't do, but rather who and what systems you work in and with. When we don't feel supported or don't have adequate community to sustain our work, we are at risk of burnout. There are three important parts to emotional burnout--depersonalization-- or feeling more insensitive to other's plights or even feeling callus towards people--emotional exhaustion--feeling less enthusiastic about your job or ministry-- and having a reduced sense of purpose--feeling like you can't remember why you went into your vocation or job in the first place. This is particularly painful for those in ministry or caregiving professions.

Knowing the Difference Matters

We can feel compassion fatigue without burnout, and we can feel burned out without compassion fatigue. There are similar ways to treat both, but in general it is important to know the difference if you are seeking therapy so that the source of your difficulties can be addressed and you can move forward towards your resiliency and recovery with confidence.

Reach out if you or someone you know is having difficulty. Your wellness matters!

In wellness,


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