Five Easy Ways Professional Caretakers Can Prevent Compassion Fatigue

By:  Helen M. Thamm, APRN, CPC

Have you heard of the newer buzz words “compassion fatigue”?  It happens when you feel you just don’t have anything left to give to your clients/patients.   Karl LaRowe, in his book “Transform Compassion Fatigue” shares his personal story of being a therapist who actually started feeling depressed after several years of doing psychotherapy.  He realized he had not been taking care of himself on a daily basis, which over time made it difficult for him to continue to be totally present, positive and encouraging to others because he felt depleted himself.

Karl shared something called Qigong which he describes in his book.  The techniques include smooth body movements with special breath work to balance energy.  When I tried a few of the techniques I felt a combination of refreshed and relaxed.

Self Care is Not Selfish

There is a western analogy that can help caretakers understand why it is so important to take time to care of ourselves.  The wagon wheel’s hub holds all the spokes in place.  Imagine what would happen to the wheel if the hub became weak and broke.  Yes, the whole wheel would fall apart.  Much the same happens to caretakers’ lives when they don’t keep themselves (the hub) strong.  When caretakers start to feel apathy towards their clients and even family members, it is as if their life wheel is weakened because their hubs are “fractured.”  If they continue on the road to compassion fatigue, they often can get depressed, get physically ill and may even get to a point where they cannot continue in their caretaker roles, much like the hub of a wheel breaking.  Therefore to prevent caretaker compassion fatigue, it is first necessary to recognize we

also have nurturing/health needs that must be filled or we can become basically useless to help others.

Five Simple Ways to Nurture the Nurturer/Caretaker

  1. Take a few minutes to connect with and enjoy nature.  (For city dwellers, maybe grow some flowers in your yard and spend time drinking in their beauty/scent, or buy some!)
  2. Learn QiGong or Hatha Yoga and practice a few techniques/postures every day to  both relax and re-energize.
  3. Read something positive.  Garrison and Duncan in their book “Stressed Out About Your Nursing Career” suggest “Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul” by Jack Canfield, but some prefer spiritually oriented books, to “feed the soul” or just remind us of our intrinsic worth.
  4. Take a brisk walk or engage in another enjoyable (with the emphasis on “enjoyable”) aerobic exercise of your choice for at least twenty minutes, three time per week.  I found a “buddy” helps to keep us both motivated, and besides chatting while walking is a lot more fun for me.
  5. Develop an artistic hobby, and/or attend relaxing concerts (like those featuring soft jazz or classical music or listen to it on the radio), or go to a museum of your choice.

Using one or more of the above suggestions that give you a pleasant experience can help fill up your own “needs tank”.  Supportive relationships can also help, but be aware that many of us who are caretakers often attract people who basically want us to take care of them.  i.e. the classic “give-take” relationship is not  “I give, you take”.

Rather positive/healthy outside relationships are based on mutual respect and sharing.

Also, if caretakers socialize with other caretakers who are becoming fatigued, the interactions often become complaint sessions, and the people involved usually feel even more depleted after the conversations.  Sometimes a co-worker can become a friend, but I find it helpful to agree not to talk about work, while enjoying some pleasant activity, helps keep a healthy balance.

Another great way to deal with keeping passion for caretaking high, is seeing the humor in small everyday occurrences.  I like two of the “Blue Collar” comedians who tell funny stories from their real family lives, for example, as I think most of us can relate and it doesn’t put anybody else down, etc.  A sense of humor can I find really help make our serious work at least a little bit fun, and fun can help us see caretaking as a more positive form of work.

Whatever you choose to do to care for yourself, make sure you take time to do it on a regular basis.  If the “guilt monster” raises its ugly head, remind yourself of the wagon wheel analogy.  If you don’t stay healthy, positive and strong, you have nothing to give others.  Besides aren’t you just as worthy of care as those you care for?  YOU ARE!


References: Garrison, Kathleen and Duncan, Jill, Stressed Out About Your Nursing Career.  HCPro, Inc., Marblehead, MA, 2008 LaRowe, Karl, Transform Compassion Fatigue PESI,LLC, Leclaire, WI, 2005

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About the Author:  Helen Thamm, APRN, CPC is a licensed nurse therapist in Illinois and Wyoming as well as a Certified Professional Coach, who is a career and wellness specialist. You can obtain free tips on career success and wellness issues at and you can listen to her career success radio series on the Events Page.  Leadership challenges are creatively overcome in her new manager’s success toolkit book:  “How to Manage with a Magic Wand (No, Don’t Hit Your “Problem Employees” over the Head with it!)” and work/life re-balance in the bestseller “The Wellness Code” co-authored with Dr. John Ellis, et al which are available at  Helen can be reached for questions at: