The Psychic Costs of Empathic Engagement: Personal and Demographic Predictors of Genetic Counselor Compassion Fatigue

Journal of Genetic Counseling (Impact Factor: 1.75). 01/2008; 17(5):459-471. DOI: 10.1007/s10897-008-9162-3

ABSTRACT Empathic connection with one’s patients is essential to genetic counselor clinical practice. However, repeatedly engaging
with distressed patients may cause compassion fatigue, a phenomenon characterized as feeling overwhelmed by experiencing patients’
suffering. In order to extend findings of an initial qualitative study, we surveyed 222 genetic counselors about their compassion
fatigue and factors that predict its occurrence. Multiple regression analysis identified seven significant predictors accounting
for 53.7% of the variance in compassion fatigue. Respondents at higher risk of compassion fatigue were more likely to report
being burned out, using self-criticism and giving up to manage stress, experiencing a greater variety of distressing clinical
events, having larger patient caseloads, relying on religion as a coping strategy, having no children, and seeking support
to manage stress. Respondents also provided critical incidents regarding their compassion fatigue and themes in these incidents
are described. Practice and research recommendations are provided.

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