Even the most compassionate, empathic and dedicated clinician has to work to prevent burnout and compassion fatigue. Where you work can often play a big role in the making or prevention of compassion fatigue and burnout. High-stress, high-volume work with little rest or downtime can be a major contributing factor to these issues.

As a nonprofit counseling professional, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of burnout in yourself and your staff members in order to prevent it. Taking small steps now can prevent or reduce the likelihood of losing some key members of your team. It is well worth the effort in the long run.

What follows are some warning signs of compassion fatigue:

  • Excessive blaming
  • Bottled-up emotions
  • Isolating from others
  • Substance abuse
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Poor self-care
  • Legal problems
  • Apathy
  • Mental and physical fatigue
  • Being preoccupied
  • Being in denial about problems
  • Difficulty concentrating

If left unchecked, compassion fatigue can lead to full-scale burnout. Burnout is the physical and emotional exhaustion that caregivers can experience with increased workloads and stress levels. In extreme cases, burnout can lead to serious physical and mental illness. Thankfully, the signs are easily recognizable, preventable and treatable.

Signs of burnout:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Quick to get angry or suspicious
  • Susceptibility to illness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger

There are four main stages of burnout.

Enthusiasm: Start work full of energy and with dreams of giant positive outcomes that may not be realistic.

Stagnation: Start feeling that your work is not matching your initial ideals, is always the same or is making little impact.

Frustration: Your anger and resentment over the state of your work grows. You feel you are wasting your time or accomplishing little to nothing.

Apathy: You no longer care. You are “punching the clock,” counting down to retirement, exploring options in other programs or changing careers.

Compassion fatigue and burnout can be quite difficult, especially for those in the helping professions. Many helping professionals report some level of compassion fatigue and burnout. Here are a few ways that caregivers can protect themselves.

  • Get educated on signs and symptoms
  • Practice self-care
  • Set emotional boundaries
  • Engage in outside hobbies
  • Cultivate healthy friendships outside of work
  • Keep a journal
  • Boost your resiliency
  • Use positive coping strategies
  • Identify workplace strategies
  • Seek personal therapy
  • Pace your work schedule
  • Vary your work as much as possible
  • Limit your work to 40 hours per week whenever possible
  • Take regular vacations or mini holidays to help recharge




Contributors: Lisa M. Corson and Jessica Gafaar


Nonprofit News looks at issues that are of interest to counselor clinicians, with a focus on those who are working in nonprofit settings.


Dr. Warren Corson III

“Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, and clinical and executive director of Community Counseling Centers of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). Contact him at docwarren@docwarren.org. Additional resources related to nonprofit design, documentation and related information can be found at docwarren.org/supervisionservices/resourcesforclinicians.html.







Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.