Several years ago I wrote a not-so-serious post about the differences between burnout and compassion fatigue. As many people are truly interested in more details about these phenomena, now comes the more serious version.
Tracy C. Wharton, in Social Worker, notes that burnout occurs as a result of stressful job environments. Furthermore, as has been widely reported, burnout has recently been linked to depression, in that the symptoms are often similar.
Compassion fatigue, on the other hand, is a combination of burnout and secondary trauma, a “reaction to dealing with other people’s situations.”
The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project (CFAP) offers further background:
Leading traumatologist Eric Gentry suggests that people who are attracted to care giving often enter the field already compassion fatigued. A strong identification with helpless, suffering, or traumatized people or animals is possibly the motive. It is common for such people to hail from a tradition of what Gentry labels: other-directed care giving. Simply put, these are people who were taught at an early age to care for the needs of others before caring for their own needs. Authentic, ongoing self-care practices are absent from their lives.
Selected Burnout Resources
The Maslach Burnout Inventory is a tool to be self-administered and used as a guide to determine how much at risk one is for developing burnout. The three aspects it measures are as follows (per Sara Gottfried, MD):
1. emotional exhaustion – deep fatigue and feelings of being emotionally drained and overwhelmed
2. depersonalization – a loss of self and a cynical disregard for the people you serve or live with
3. diminished personal accomplishment – a progressive loss of confidence and competence
The title of Dr. Edy Greenblatt‘s 2009 Restore Yourself: The Antidote for Professional Exhaustion provides a synonym for burnout that the Maslach, as you can see, indicates is a major facet of the condition.
Symptoms of compassion fatigue are listed by the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project.
In addition to other resources found on the CFAP site, one useful one is a workbook (2014) by Martha Teater and John Ludgate.