Compassion Fatigue: The Experience of Nurses

Ethics and Social Welfare 3 (2):195-214 (2009)
The term compassion fatigue has come to be applied to a disengagement or lack of empathy on the part of care-giving professionals. Empathy and emotional investment have been seen as potentially costing the caregiver and putting them at risk. Compassion fatigue has been equated with burnout, secondary traumatic stress disorder, vicarious traumatization, secondary victimization or co-victimization, compassion stress, emotional contagion, and counter-transference. The results of a Canadian qualitative research project on nurses? experience of compassion fatigue are presented. Nurses, self-identified as having compassion fatigue, described a change in their practice by which they began to shield and distance themselves from the suffering of patients and families. Time to help patients and families cope with suffering seemed unavailable, and many felt they were running on empty and, ultimately, impotent as nurses. Feelings of irritability, anger, and negativity arose, though participants described denying or ignoring these emotions as a way to try to survive their work day. Difficulties with work carried over into the nurses? personal lives, affecting their relationships with family and friends. Such experiences invariably called into question the participants? identity, causing them to reflect on the kind of nurse they were. The participants? compassion fatigue created a sense of hopelessness regarding positive change, although some nurses described strategies that seemed to help alleviate their compassion fatigue
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DOI 10.1080/17496530902951988
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