Battling Burnout: Practices to Overcome Therapist Compassion Fatigue

By: Jason M. Jowers, M.S. MFT.

Four matches with one burnt out
Flickr [Burnout! By Dennis Skley, August 10, 2014, CC0]
For those working in helping professions, experiencing burnout and compassion fatigue is very common. Counselors and therapists are especially susceptible. It is our job as professionals to meet our clients where they are at and to help them discover meaning and understanding through life’s challenges. However, helping professionals face the toll of being emotionally drained or overwhelmed. These feelings are compounded by working high stress, intensive care jobs. Other causes include being overworked or feeling unsupported in the workplace by co-workers and supervisors.

As helping professionals, how can we mitigate the impact of burnout to provide our best quality service to our clients? How can we help others when it is difficult to take care of ourselves?

American Counseling Association Tips

This blog from the American Counseling Association focuses on identifying burnout. Burnout presents itself in the form of three key main components: “emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and feeling ineffective or lacking personal accomplishment” (Maslach, 2003; Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001; Thompson, Amatea, & Thompson, 2014). Each professional may experience burnout and fatigue in a variety of forms.

This quote from Dr. Charles Figley sums up his experience of what compassion fatigue looks like. “Many counselors also experience compassion fatigue (Figley, 1995), also known as secondary trauma, which can develop rapidly and results from over-identification with the suffering of others who have been exposed to trauma.” As helping professionals, there are also signs and triggers we must identify for ourselves in the work we do and the impact it has on our mental health.

Also included in the ACA blog are tips for taking action against burnout. These tips include:

  • Understanding your current risk factors of burnout
  • Creating a prevention plan like a wellness toolkit for managing stress
  • Creating a daily self-care routine
  • Engaging in your interests that is not counseling/work related
  • Reflecting upon your theoretical training and orientation
  • Seeking consultation and counseling

Family Development Resources

In our Family Development blog post, “Three Signs You May Be Experiencing Burnout,” we go into detail of what burnout is, the symptoms, and how to identify it. Another Family Development blog post, “Burning the Candle at Both Ends: How to Combat Burnout,” highlights ways in which to dampen down the effects of burnout. And finally, we have this blog post on self-care, “It Isn’t Selfish, its Ethical: The Importance of Self-Care,” and how critical it is to take time out for yourself. After all, the best way to take care of others is to identify and understand how to best take care of ourselves.


Kerulis, M. (2018). Identifying and Overcoming Burnout: Essential Practices for Counselors. American Counseling Association. Retrieved from:

Figley, C.R. (Ed.) (1995). Compassion fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress disorder in those who treat the traumatized. An Overview. 1-20. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Thompson, I., A., Amatea, E. S., & Thompson, E. S. (2014). Personal and Contextual Predictors of Mental Health Counselors’ Compassion Fatigue and Burnout. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 36(1), 58-77.

This post was written by members of the OneOp Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Learn more about us at, and connect with us on Facebook, and on Twitter.  Subscribe to our Anchored. podcast series on iTunes and via our podcast page.

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