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Compassion Fatigue and the Need for Self-Care

We must believe that it is not selfish to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first.
Practicing self-compassion will help build resiliency.

Many who devote their lives to supporting others during times of pain and suffering may experience a condition known as Compassion Fatigue. First Responders, Counsellors, Therapists, Nurses, Doctors,


Volunteers and caring individuals who assist people in their healing are at risk. Those of us working in the “Helping Professions”, see it as a privilege to share the vulnerability of other human beings, however there may be a cost to our own mental/emotional, spiritual and physical health and well-being.


Compassion Fatigue can be described as the emotional strain that an individual experiences when they are regularly exposed to the suffering of others. As we provide a supportive presence to our clients, we bear witness to their stories and exposure to their trauma and pain. As a counsellor, I recognize that it is impossible not to be impacted by others at their most vulnerable.


While we regularly observe our clients in their suffering, we may forget about our own self-care. The lens through we view the world can become discoloured. Our opinions of others may change. We can find ourselves experiencing anger, fatigue, changes in our mood, irritability, sleep challenges and depression. We often struggle with setting emotional boundaries and knowing when it is okay to say no. Unfortunately, we do not always recognize the signs until we are already experiencing them.


Developing an awareness of Compassion Fatigue in order that we recognize the symptoms is the first step. We must believe that it is not selfish to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first. Being mindful of our emotional well-being and our physical health will help protect us from experiencing Compassion Fatigue.


Regularly engaging in self-care is essential in reducing our risk. Incorporating strategies such as mindfulness, meditation, daily exercise, engaging with family with friends, healthy eating, getting adequate sleep, participating in meaningful activities and hobbies are just a few of the things that we can do to create more balance. It may be necessary to seek support from a professional. Counsellors and other experts in the field can help provide tools and coping strategies.


Practicing self-compassion will help build the resiliency to be more present with others without a cost to ourselves. We can experience the satisfaction of helping those in their time of suffering while we appreciate the joy our work brings to our lives.


Shelley Read, MSW, RSW

Therapist, Aging Well Consultant

sreadtherapist@gmail, or by cell 226-339-2218

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Shelley Read

690 Belmont Ave W Unit 101, Kitchener, ON N2M 1N6, Canada

(226) 339-2218

©2019 by Shelley Read.