, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 299-312
Date: 23 Feb 2007

When You Care Enough to Do Your Very Best: Genetic Counselor Experiences of Compassion Fatigue

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Compassion fatigue is a phenomenon that occurs when a caregiver feels overwhelmed by repeated empathic engagement with distressed clients (Figley, 2002). Research demonstrates its existence among nurses, physicians, and mental health professionals, but to date no published study has specifically investigated the nature and prevalence of compassion fatigue among genetic counselors. The present study was an initial attempt to identify and describe the phenomena in genetic counseling by conducting focus group interviews with 12 genetic counselors. Data analysis yielded several themes: a) compassion fatigue occurs and may compromise professional and personal functioning; b) prevalent triggers include delivering bad news and difficult patient issues (e.g., terminal illness, anger, psychopathology); c) effective coping strategies include consulting with colleagues, setting boundaries, and humor; and d) risk factors include personality characteristics and traumatic memories. Training, practice, and research recommendations are provided.