Predictors of Compassion Fatigue in Mental Health Professionals: A Narrative Review

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Professionals who work in mental health settings are at risk of developing psychological distress themselves. The term “compassion fatigue” has been used to describe the negative effects of working in a psychologically distressing environment on a person’s ability to feel compassion for others. A number of studies have investigated predictors and correlates of compassion fatigue. However, as yet there is no consensus on which psychosocial factors are most commonly related to compassion fatigue. This review examines research on common correlates and predictors of compassion fatigue in mental health professionals. A literature search yielded 32 studies describing compassion fatigue in a range of mental health professionals and in relation to a variety of psychosocial factors. Quality of papers was variable. The review highlights several factors that were commonly associated with compassion fatigue (e.g., trauma history of mental health professionals, empathy). Some potential protective factors were also indicated, including certain behavioral and cognitive coping styles and mindfulness. Findings and implications are discussed, and directions for future studies are indicated. In particular, we highlight the need for longitudinal studies to investigate compassion fatigue’s development over time and to test models of the etiology of compassion fatigue.

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