CULTIVATING EMPATHY: Inspiring Health Professionals to Communicate More Effectively

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Understanding Compassion Fatigue

Pp. 147-166 (20)

Kathleen Stephany


Although empathy is a crucial component in a helper’s capacity to communicate effectively with those under their care, there can be negative consequences associated with over identification with the suffering of others. For example, compassion fatigue can occur, where the caregiver stops being empathetic. Compassion fatigue was the focus of chapter seven. The difference between burnout and compassion fatigue was explained. The people who are at risk of developing burnout or compassion fatigue were identified, followed by an overview of the warning signs, and how to deal with these problems when they do occur. Strategies that may be helpful in preventing compassion fatigue were presented such as, critical incident and informal debriefing, exquisite empathy, and self-care. In the case in point, an emergency room nurse shared her story of how she developed compassion fatigue after being confronted with on-going suffering. In closing, caregivers were encouraged to develop a personal wellness plan.


Burnout, compassion fatigue, critical incident debriefing, empathy, exquisite empathy, informal debriefing, personal wellness plan, self-care.


Full Time Nurse Educator in the Faculty of Health Sciences Douglas College, BC Canada Canada.