10 ways to fight compassion fatigue for counselors


As a counselor, you have the unique challenge of providing your clients with emotional support and understanding. While this is a rewarding job, it can occasionally feel overwhelming, be emotionally exhausting, and can leave you feeling drained.

Compassion fatigue, also known as secondary traumatic stress, is a condition that can affect counselors and other professionals who work with vulnerable populations. It can lead to physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, impacting their well-being and professional performance. 

Fortunately, there are several strategies that can be used to reduce their risk of developing compassion fatigue and keep them feeling energized and fulfilled.

Understand what compassion fatigue is

Compassion fatigue results from prolonged exposure to distressing situations and can cause physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. It can affect one’s personal life and professional career. Its symptoms include hopelessness, apathy, isolation, depression, and anxiety. 

Compassion fatigue is common among healthcare workers, counselors, social workers, nurses, teachers, therapists, among others. These individuals must recognize the signs of compassion fatigue and take the necessary steps to prevent it from worsening. 

By understanding what compassion fatigue is and how to admit it is affecting them, they can take measures to prevent it from taking a toll on their personal lives and professional careers. To learn more on the subject, a CACREP-accredited counseling program may help. The program offered at Walsh University guides students to becoming independent licensed practitioners, developing and applying their philosophy to counseling and consultation.

Acknowledge feelings

Feeling overwhelmed and exhausted after engaging with clients and their stories of suffering is normal. Take the time to sit with your feelings and recognize the strain of helping others. Be bold and accept your limitations and take a break when needed. 

Taking care of yourself emotionally is just as important as taking care of yourself physically.

Engaging in activities that help you relax and tune in with your feelings can also be beneficial. 

Mindfulness meditation, for instance, can help reduce stress and cultivate a sense of balance. Compassion fatigue can cause us to become disconnected from our own emotions and experiences. 

Therefore, it is necessary to remember to take the time to acknowledge your needs and feelings while supporting those of your clients. Doing so will help you stay connected with your purpose as a counselor and prevent burnout.

Set boundaries

Compassion fatigue can make it hard to maintain healthy boundaries, resulting in getting lost in work or other obligations. As a counselor, you may feel the need to give your all to every client and be available 24/7. But setting boundaries is vital to protect yourself from emotional and physical exhaustion. 

Setting clear expectations and communicating them helps keep everyone on the same page, so you can focus on providing quality care without feeling overwhelmed. It’s also important to create boundaries for yourself, such as limiting the number of patients you take on or ensuring you get enough rest and have time away from work. 

Let your supervisor know when you need a break and take regular vacations. Getting away for regular intervals will help you to stay energized and focused on the task at hand.

Manage your stress

Working closely with people dealing with difficulties, traumas, and pain can be mentally and emotionally exhausting, leaving you feeling drained and overwhelmed. Managing stress is vital to maintaining professional balance when dealing with clients to prevent or minimize compassion fatigue.

The first step to effectively managing stress is to look for changes in your body and mind that indicate an increased stress level, such as increased tension, frustration, and fatigue. Then look at situations that may have contributed to the heightened stress level and develop a strategy to manage the stress levels effectively.

Getting enough rest, staying hydrated, and taking regular breaks can be helpful as they provide an opportunity to disconnect, meditate, and exercise, reducing stress levels. Stress can also be managed and overcome by challenging any harmful thought patterns.

Get enough sleep

Practicing good sleep habits when dealing with clients’ suffering can be tricky since counseling is time-consuming, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Create a bedtime routine to wind down mentally and physically before you hit the sheets. 

This might include taking a hot bath, reading a few book chapters, and avoiding too much caffeine too close to bedtime. Working out in the morning or at least three hours before bedtime is a good physical release.

Try turning off your electronics and avoid bright screens at least one hour before bed since exposure to bright screens stimulates your mind and keeps you awake longer. With a few minor tweaks to your daily routine and implementing these lifestyle strategies, you can fight burnout and stay energized and positive.

Eat a nutritious diet

Eating healthily is a critical way to manage the day’s emotions and cope with the challenging days ahead. Healthy eating gives our bodies and minds the essential vitamins and minerals to stay healthy and productive.

The types of foods we eat also affect our energy levels, making a difference in how well we concentrate, stay motivated, and tackle challenging tasks. Hydration is also crucial in managing our emotional state and avoiding compassion fatigue. 

Taking time to fill your plate with healthy food and focusing on yourself will restore the energy you need to continue helping others. Additionally, ensuring you schedule rest days and downtime to care for yourself is essential in avoiding exhaustion and managing your emotional well-being. 

Combining a nutritious diet, staying hydrated, and focusing on self-care will give you all the tools necessary to help fight off compassion fatigue.


As counselors, we often encounter many heartbreaking and overwhelming situations while supporting those in need. Meditation can be an excellent tool for combating compassion fatigue and aiding overall well-being.

Practicing regular meditation can have both mental and physical health benefits. This can range from improved concentration and relaxation to decreased anxiety, fatigue, and overall mood.

Meditating also helps cultivate resilience in times of distress. When we encounter a difficult situation in counseling, the skills learned from meditation can be used to cope with it and remain level-headed. 

Start by setting aside ten minutes each day and find a quiet space free of distractions and connecting with your breath. Keep an open and compassionate attitude throughout the experience, and you’ll start to notice a change in your well-being and feel better equipped to help your clients.

Keep a gratitude journal

Journals are significant to counselors dealing with the intense emotions of others and potentially burning out in the process. It helps them stay focused on the positives and get through the more difficult days.

By practicing gratitude, we become aware of all the good that exists in our lives, as well as remind ourselves of the moments worth cherishing. It is easy to get overwhelmed when facing complex challenges, but with a gratitude journal, you can face these challenges with more strength and courage.

If you take a few moments out of each day to think about things that bring you joy, your mindset may gradually shift from focusing on the negative to appreciating the positive.

Join a support group

Having a safe, encouraging place in which to talk about the struggles you are facing can make all the difference. Not only will it help you learn about and find ways to cope with compassion fatigue, but you will also be able to connect with other counselors who understand what you are going through.

There are a variety of different support groups that are specifically geared toward helping counselors fight compassion fatigue. These groups aim to give counselors a place to talk, share their experiences, and help each other find the tools to continue positively influencing their clients’ lives.

Seek professional help

When your job starts feeling taxing, or if you are feeling resentful, overwhelmed, or isolated, it can be easy to brush it off and keep going. However, ensuring you take care of yourself is vital before you start feeling the adverse effects of compassion fatigue.

You could contact your friends and family or find an experienced therapist to help you process what you are going through. When you openly talk about your struggles and receive empathy, it can do wonders for helping you manage your fatigue.

Take your time, give yourself a rest. It is crucial to dedicate time away from your job to reset. Breaks like these can recharge you and help you stay focused during work hours. Get back in touch with yourself and regain control of your mental health and professional performance.

Final thoughts

As counselors, it is essential to understand that helping others comes with emotional risks, and we will face the realities of our clients’ traumas. Compassion fatigue is a genuine concern that counselors must be mindful of as we support clients in need. 

Taking a few key steps can lessen the chances of developing it. No matter how much of an emotional toll our jobs take on us, there are things we can do to mitigate its effects and maintain our professional performance.


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