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Recognizing Compassion Fatigue in Therapists & How To Grapple With It

2 Minute Read

Mental health professionals deliver unwavering support and empathy to clients on a daily basis. Their commitment to walking in clients’ shoes is admirable, but it can also be emotionally taxing. Therapists may have a difficult time establishing healthy boundaries and prioritizing their own self-care. Without those elements in place, they’re more at risk for experiencing compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue is a form of burnout where mental health professionals experience physical and emotional exhaustion due to secondary traumatic stress. Recognized as a prevalent and pressing behavioral health field issue, it’s important for supervisors to be able to notice signs of burnout and compassion fatigue in their therapists and be able to effectively support them.

A supervisor at a mental health clinic supports a therapist with their own mental well-being, minimizing their risk of developing compassion fatigue

Compassion Fatigue in Therapists: 3 Signs To Look For

Emotional Stress

When a therapist’s emotional well-being is compromised by compassion fatigue, they are likely to exhibit signs of distress. Do therapists appear more irritable or tend to have more frequent mood swings? Shifts in emotional stress could mean therapists are struggling with how to maintain boundaries while helping clients navigate challenges. Grappling with this secondary traumatic stress can manifest into physical symptoms like not getting adequate sleep.


When therapists become too entangled with their clients’ distress, they can start to pull away from their clients as a coping mechanism. A therapist’s lack of empathetic engagement can take the form of indifference to their clients’ struggles or a more muted response. Therapists can also find it harder to emotionally connect with their clients as they had in the past, as they’re less willing to share in a client’s emotional experiences.

Developing compassion fatigue can cause a mental health professional to feel detached when delivering mental health services and fail to foster compassion satisfaction


In the same vein of how compassion fatigue creates detachment, it can also cause therapists to be more pessimistic. Therapists may become more skeptical about the value of their mental health services and their ability to help clients achieve positive outcomes. If therapists voice these kinds of concerns, it can mean a therapist has started to lose their sense of purpose in their role.

Strategies To Prevent Compassion Fatigue & Support Therapists

Schedule Regular Check-Ins

Regular supervisor check-ins can be beneficial in many respects, including detection of early signs of compassion fatigue. Without feeling intrusive, check-ins give therapists a natural space to express any concerns that are on their mind. The more open the lines of communication are between supervisors and therapists, the more safeguards there can be to support a therapist’s mental and emotional health.

Offer Education on Self-Care Strategies

In the face of emotionally demanding work, therapists need their own tools to manage stress and deal with their emotions. As a supervisor, you can make these resources readily available through written materials and workshops that cover topics like empathy fatigue in helping professions and how to practice self-care. This article from the American Counseling Association could be a helpful jumping off point, as it offers tips on how to combat compassion fatigue. Workshops can be especially beneficial since therapists can find support in hearing their challenges echoed in others’ stories.

Getting mental health professionals together for a compassion fatigue therapists workshop can help therapists who experience compassion fatigue or are at risk of developing compassion fatigue with effective coping mechanisms

Lead By Example

When a supervisor demonstrates their commitment to work-life balance, therapists take notice. By forming healthy boundaries and taking regular breaks and vacations, you’re sending a powerful message to your therapists about how they should approach their work. Being mindful to not create a culture that overemphasizes work can go a long way in helping therapists avoid compassion fatigue.

Pairing the Right Approach With the Right Technology

Therapists have to deal with a lot of stressors. The technology they use shouldn’t be part of that equation. They deserve a user-friendly behavioral health EHR software that understands their workflows, keeps them on track, and automates everything possible.

With mental health professionals already prone to developing compassion fatigue and emotional exhaustion, the right EHR can support mental health counselors

ClinicTracker checks all of these boxes. Designed specifically for the behavioral health field, ClinicTracker combines EHR, billing, and practice management in a single solution that is flexible enough to suit your area of specialization. Learn more about what makes ClinicTracker the right choice.