Compassion Fatigue

Compassion Fatigue

Janet Cromer, RN, LMHC, Spouse

The stress of being a caregiver for a spouse, child, parent or sibling with a traumatic or acquired brain injury can lead to compassion fatigue which is also known as secondary traumatic stress. It can result in physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion. This tip card helps family caregivers understand the meaning of compassion fatigue and learn how to create a wellness plan to protect a caregiver's physical and mental health.

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Full Description

Compassion fatigue is closly related to post-traumatic stress disorder. Family members who are also caregivers of individuals with brain injury are at risk for compassion fatigue or secondary traumatic stress. This tip card describes the warning signs of physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral changes that may worsen and harm the caregiver's health, functioning, and relationships. It provides tips for empowering yourself to care for your mind, body, spirit, and relationships as your first priority. There are tips to care for your body, mind, and spirit as well as suggestions for how to make caregiving safer and more satisfying. Many caregivers say it is the hardest work they have ever done but it also has special meaning and rewards. But caring for yourself is critical to avoid the burnout of compassion fatigue.

Pages 8
Year 2012


Janet Cromer, RN, LMHC, Spouse

Ms Cromer's career spans 35 years as a medical and psychiatric registered nurse, 23 years as a licensed psychotherapist, and 7 years as an award-winning healthcare writer, most recently from the American Medical Writers Association New England Chapter. She had held clinical and administrative positions in hospitals and community mental health programs and managed a successful private psychotherapy practice. As a Registered Art Therapist with a Master's Degree in Expressive Therapies from Lesley University, she incorporated art, writing, drama, and movement into her treatment with people dealing with medical illness, mental illness, and brain injury. She has long been interested in the medical humanities as a way to improve patient care and foster humane relationships among professionals, patients, and families.

Since 1998, Ms Cromer has contributed her professional expertise to the brain injury and family caregiver communities as an award winning writer, support group facilitator, speaker, advisory board member, and advocate for family caregivers and survivors. Her viewpoint encompasses a broad understanding of healthcare issues and personal experience as a family caregiver for her husband who faced the challenges of brain injury, dementia, and Parkinson's disease. Professor Cromer Learns to Read: A Couple's New Life after Brain Injury is the recipient of a 2010 Solimene Award for Excellence in Medical Communication and the Neal Duane Award for Distinction from the American Medical Writers Association-NE Chapter.


What is Compassion?

What is Compassion Fatigue?

o Compassion fatigue basics

o Who is at risk for compassion fatigue?

Warning Signals of Compassion Fatigue

o Physical signals

o Emotional signals

o Thinking/cognitive signals

o Behavioral signals

o Spiritual signals

Prevent Compassion Fatigue

o Tips to care for your body

o Tips to care for your mind

o Tips to care for your spirit

o Tips to make caregiving safer and more satisfying



What is Compassion?

Compassion is a feeling of deep caring and sorrow for someone who is severely injured or ill. Compassion goes beyond sympathy to feeling as if you share the pain. As a caregiver, you want to help ease the suffering, and feel responsible for relieving physical or emotional problems.

What is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion Fatigue (CF) is a form of complete exhaustion that results from prolonged caring for a traumatized or suffering person. The person's injuries may be physical or psychological. Often there is a combination. CF usually builds up over a long period of exposure to stress and caregiving without enough help. In addition to bearing witness to suffering, you provide complicated care and juggle tremendous responsibilities.

Caregiving burdens can trigger a prolonged stress response that interferes with responding effectively. This stress response adds to the risk of CF. Sometimes, the more you love or care about the injured or ill person, the greater the risk of CF. Empathy, while necessary for understanding and connection, can also lead to absorbing trauma and suffering. You absorb the person's pain, and can't get it out of your mind. You might develop a secondary traumatic stress reaction, almost as if you were injured or ill.

Compassion fatigue basics

Causes physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion.

Contributes to health problems, emotional distress, behavior changes, and substance abuse.

Is a normal response to an extreme situation.You are not weak or a failure as a caregiver!

Can be an opportunity to learn new stress resilience skills.