Church Mental Health Summit


stress & burnout uncategorized Feb 14, 2023


It’s no surprise that research studies are finding that a ministry leader’s well-being is negatively impacted by the work of serving and caring for others.  

This is not a fault of the leader or even of ministry itself.  Compassion fatigue is not a result of weakness, sin or failure, but it is an occupational hazard or known risk of providing empathy to others.

Feelings of resentment, cynicism, anger, exhaustion and inability to separate home and work life can all result from compassion fatigue.  




Awareness is growing about the impact of Compassion Fatigue on caregivers. 

Compassion fatigue refers to the profound emotional and physical erosion that takes place when helpers are unable to refuel and regenerate.  

The work of helping requires people to open their hearts and minds to those who they are supporting – unfortunately, this very process of empathy and caring is what makes helpers vulnerable to the negative impacts of compassion fatigue 

The need for caregivers is increasing as our society and culture shift and our social system struggles to keep up with increased demand. And when we think about who those in caring roles we typically think of nurses, counsellors, teachers first responders etc.  

I believe that clergy, and those who are in ministry, are also among the caregivers that are trying to keep up with the growing demand to support others through very complex issues. Around the world ministry leaders and cross-cultural workers are serving and caring and unaware of the risk and impacts of Compassion Fatigue.  Resulting in people experiencing mental, emotional and physical exhaustion and even having to leave the ministry to care for own their wellbeing.




Only those who care can become fatigued.

I think of a construction worker who wears a helmet and safety vest because being physically injured is a known risk in their field. Compassion Fatigue the known risk in the helping fields.  

Researcher and author Charles Figley describes Compassion fatigue as the “cost of caring” for others who are in emotional pain. 

Compassion Fatigue can be the side effect of supporting others. Again, this is not because of a failure or weakness or sin.  It is simply a known risk of caring for others. 

I like to use the analogy of a campfire.  When are sitting around the campfire we try to avoid sitting in the smoke.  But no matter how hard we try we usually walk away smelling like smoke.   It’s in our hair, clothes and sometimes our eyes and throat burn a bit.  


Until we are able to intentionally shower, wash our clothes and rest our eyes and throat the smell and impacts of the campfire lingers.  

This is the same with compassion fatigue.  

The impacts of caring for others can hitch a ride and hang on until we intentionally change or d something to “wash” it off.  

Although there are ways to decrease or limit the impacts of Compassion Fatigue there really is no way to fully prevent being personally impacted by caring for others.  


This information can be a relief to some, becoming tired and jaded by supporting others comes with a lot of guilt and shame.   But it is a caution to all who work in these fields.  There are skills and tools you can use to limit the impacts and prevent the deep emotional and physical erosion that can take place.  

However, just like the campfire smoke we often need to be intentional in what we do to prevent and “wash-off” the sticky smoke.  

Here are a few signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue.   



This is a key marker of having compassion fatigue.

This can be seen in silencing or avoiding topics while supporting someone.  We can easily redirect a conversation, preventing someone from sharing information we don’t want to or can’t handle.  

In my own experience, I would often lose empathy for my family and friends’ struggles because they seemed so minor to the crisis work I was doing.  



Pervasive feelings of exhaustion is a very common symptom.  It doesn’t matter how much sleep you had the heavy feelings of beign warn-out is constant.   This can further axasperate areas that are also triggered by compassion fatigue like agitation or anger, anxiety, lowered immune system, cynasims and sleep disturbances.  



Studies have shown that when people are in the early stages of compassion fatigue they are more likely to work more not less.  They dive headfirst into the work and needs of others and can lose sight of healthy boundaries.  Thoughts of those they are supporting linger in their minds while they are at home and they struggle to detach their work and personal life.  


These are just a few examples of the signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue.  If you are interested in learning more about compassion fatigue check out our program Finding Hope In Helping.  it’s an online course that walks participants through a series of short video lessons and workbook and at the end you have a personalized plan to overcome and prevent CF. 


If you are unsure if you are experiencing compassion fatigue I encourage you can take the Professional Quality of Life Assessment.  Click the link above and you can do the assessment online and your custom results will be sent to your inbox.

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