Compassion Satisfaction

Helping professionals experience many intrinsic emotional rewards from caring for people and often helping them make changes for the better.  Compassion satisfaction is the term used to describe this powerful phenomenon.  For those serving in healthcare occupations, few experiences are more rewarding than serving patients on their healing journey, whether healing is curative in nature or palliative in the case of end-of-life care (Shapiro, Brown, & Biegel, 2007).  Stamm (2002) identified Compassion Satisfaction as a possible factor that counterbalances the risks of Compassion Fatigue and suggested that this may account for the “resiliency of the human spirit” (p.110).


Compassion Fatigue is made up of two components: Burnout and Secondary Traumatic Stress.  Burnout includes three elements that can lead to feelings of hopelessness and inability to
serve clients effectively: “emotional exhaustion, cynicism and inefficiency in their job roles. Burnout tends to occur over time and may increase the effect of secondary traumatic stress" (Craig and Sprang, 2010).  Burnout fits within the resource depletion framework and can lead to loss of productivity and the need for personal time off.

Secondary Traumatic Stress

Secondary Traumatic Stress, first defined by Figley (1986), describes an evolving concept in the field of traumatology as vicarious trauma that is experienced by those in the helping professions (Figley, 2002). Most often this phenomena of secondary traumatic stress is associated with the "cost of caring" for others in emotional pain or strife.  It is a stress response that emerges suddenly and without warning and often includes a sense of helplessness, isolation and confusion.  If not attended to, secondary traumatic stress may lead to depression and stress-related illnesses (Figley, 1995, 2002).  Secondary traumatic stress fits within the emotional contagion framework and may require peer or professional counseling.

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Life Satisfaction

General well-being in this assessment is measured by the Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS).  As one of the hallmark components of well-being, life satisfaction has been recognized as a distinctive concept (Pavot & Diener, 2008) used to refer to the cognitive-judgmental aspect of one’s global satisfaction with life (Diener, 1985). Although life satisfaction is correlated with other components of subjective well-being, such as positive and negative affect, it represents a unique factor.  In addition, global life satisfaction is also highly correlated with domain-specific satisfaction such as job satisfaction (Pavot & Diener, 2008).

The greatest weapon against stress is to choose one thought over another
— William James


Craig, C. D., & Sprang, G. (2010). Compassion satisfaction, compassion fatigue, and burnout in a national sample of trauma treatment therapists. Anxiety Stress Coping, 23(3), 319–339.

Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality Assessment. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49(1), 71-75.

Figley, C. R. (1986). Trauma and its wake Volume II: Traumatic stress theory, research, and intervention (1 st ed.). New York: Routledge.

Figley, C. R. (1995). Compassion Fatigue : Coping with Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder in Those Who Treat the Traumatized. New York: Routledge.

Figley, C. R. (2002). Treating compassion fatigue. New York: Routledge.

Pavot, W., & Diener, E. (2008). The Satisfaction With Life Scale and the emerging construct of life satisfaction. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 3(2), 137-152. doi:10.1080/17439760701756946

Pavot, W., Diener, E. (1993). Review of the Satisfaction With Life Scale. Psychological Assessment, 5(2), 164-172.

Shapiro, S. L., Brown, K. W., & Biegel, G. M. (2007). Teaching Self-Care to Caregivers: Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on the Mental Health of Therapists in Training. Training & Education in Professional Psychology, 1(2), 105-115. doi:10.1037/1931-3918.1.2.105

Stamm, B. (2002). Measuring compassion satisfaction as well as fatigue: Developmental history of the Compassion Satisfaction and Fatigue Test. In C. R. Figley (Ed.), Treating compassion fatigue (pp. 107-119): New York: Brunner-Routledge.