In a profession where we should be good at preventing burnout, practising what we preach, burnout is most rife in the helping profession. Looking at what burnout is and the resources available.

Burnout is a . . .

  • “Psychological syndrome in response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job” (Maslach 1982).
  • “State of mental and/or physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress” (Girdin 1996).

Common features

Burnout is characterized by 3 dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism/depersonalization, and inefficiency.

  • Exhaustion reflects the stress dimension of burnout.
  • Depersonalization is an attempt to distance oneself from an individual by developing an indifference or cynical attitude when feeling exhausted and discouraged.
  • Decreased effectiveness and work performance result from negative attitudes and behaviours.
  • These factors combined interfere with one’s effectiveness or efficiency at work.
  • Burnout manifests in persons with no previous history of psychopathology.

Situational Risk Factors

  • Demands of solo practice, long work hours, time pressure, and complex cases.
  • Lack of control over schedules, pace of work, and interruptions.
  • Lack of support for work/life balance from colleagues and/or spouse.
  • Isolation due to gender or cultural differences.
  • Work overload and its effect on home life.
  • Feeling poorly managed and resourced.
  • Managerial responsibility.
  • Dealing with individuals’ suffering.

Individual Risk Factors

  • At risk earlier in volunteering
  • Lack of support
  • Attribution of achievement to chance or others rather than one’s own abilities
  • Passive, defensive approach to stress
  • Lack of involvement in daily activities
  • Lack of sense of control over events
  • Not open to change

A great consequence of burnout is:

Compassion Fatigue or Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder


  • Compassion fatigue refers to a physical, emotional and spiritual fatigue or exhaustion that takes over a person and causes decline in his/her ability to experience joy or to feel and care for others. (Figley, 1995; Friedman, 2002).
  • Compassion fatigue is also synonymous with secondary traumatic stress disorder.
  • Compassion fatigue is a one-way street in which individuals are giving out a great deal of energy and compassion to others over a period of time, yet aren’t able to get enough personal support to reassure themselves that the world is a hopeful place.
  • It’s this constant outputting of compassion and caring over time that can lead to these feelings of total exhaustion (Figley, 1995; Friedman, 2002).


  • Compassion fatigue comes from a variety of sources. It often affects those working in care-giving professions such as nurses, physicians, mental health workers clergymen and child welfare practitioners.
  • It can affect people in any kind of situation or setting where they’re doing a great deal of care giving and expending emotional and physical energy day in and day out.
  • It is the stress resulting from helping or wanting to help a traumatized person. (Figley, 1995; Friedman, 2002)

Who is at Risk?

  • Although those in the health care field and mental health professions are most at risk for developing compassion fatigue, it is not limited to those arenas. Any caregiver is susceptible. (Figley, 2002; Figley, 1995, Friedman, 2002)
  • It can affect family carers. Such as taking care of a family member during a crisis period when a higher level of empathy is required. Or during a long-term illness that requires constant attention to their needs with compassion and sensitivity.


Compassion fatigue symptoms can present themselves as biological, psychological and/or social.

Biological/Physical – Sympathetic and parasympathetic arousal (prolonged stress leads to immuno-suppression, and frequent illness).

Psychological – Excessive self-concern, aloneness, powerlessness, despair, and stagnation.

Social – Rejection, separation, lost control, giving up, destruction, emptiness, and disintegration. (Friedman, 2002; Figley, 1995)

Resources to assist

 Support Groups



Mandy-Leigh Samaria Van Aswegen

076 104 1462

My practice is currently closed:

For support and guidance please contact SADAG 0800 567 567

From April 2023 I will be available again.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch with me for an online counselling session. Let’s together create an environment where you can connect with yourself again, an environment that fosters and encourages authenticity. An environment where you can follow your gut and get to know what it looks like.

After doing an intake I might be able to help you with a few sessions using BWRT (Brainworking Recursive Therapy) read more about BWRT on another blog on my website:, or we will use another technique depending on your unique needs.

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 Self-Care is an essential component in combatting burnout, keep an eye next month for my blog on Self-Care.

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