Is it Burnout or Compassion Fatigue?

Are you suffering from burnout or compassion fatigue? Or both? You can take the Compassion Satisfaction and Fatigue (CSF) Test to find out. You’ll also find some helpful resources below the self-test.


“Compassion Fatigue” seems to be the buzzword these days. It seems to be freely interchanged with the word “burnout,” although these strike me as being very different, although the symptoms may overlap.


Here are some helpful definitions taken from The ProQOL Manual (please refer to the source below).


Compassion Satisfaction: Compassion satisfaction is about the pleasure you derive from being able to do your work well. For example, you may feel like it is a pleasure to help others through your work. You may feel positively about your colleagues or your ability to contribute to the work setting or even the greater good of society. Higher scores on this scale represent a greater satisfaction related your ability to be an effective caregiver in your job.


Burnout: Most people have an intuitive idea of what burnout is. From the research perspective, burnout is associated with feelings of hopelessness and difficulties in dealing with work or in doing your job effectively. These negative feelings usually have a gradual onset. They can reflect the feeling that your efforts make no difference, or they can be associated with a very high workload or a non-supportive work environment. Higher scores on this scale mean that you are at higher risk for burnout.


Compassion Fatigue/Secondary Trauma: Compassion fatigue (CF), also called secondary trauma (STS), and related to Vicarious Trauma (VT) is about your work-related, secondary exposure to extremely stressful events. For example, you may repeatedly hear stories about the traumatic things that happen to other people, commonly called VT. If your work puts you directly in the path of danger, such as being a soldier or humanitarian aide worker, this is not secondary exposure; your exposure is primary. However, if you are exposed to others’ traumatic events as a result of your work, such as in an emergency room or working with child protective services, this is secondary exposure. The symptoms of CF/STS are usually rapid in onset and associated with a particular event. They may include being afraid, having difficulty sleeping, having images of the upsetting event pop into your mind, or avoiding things that remind you of the event.


Source: Stamm, B. (2005) The ProQUOL Manual. Lutherville, MD: Sidran Press, p. 5, on the internet at (visited April 28, 2006).