Compassion Fatigue

Litigation can be extremely stressful for all involved, especially in high-conflict cases involving domestic and criminal matters. To protect our own emotional well-being in the midst of the trauma and chaos encountered in high-stress areas of the law, it is fair to say that both attorneys and judges quickly realize they must strive for professional objectivity lest they become emotionally entangled in the cases. But scientific research now indicates that simply deciding to remain objective may not be effective and that our natural empathetic responses may overpower our intellectual efforts to maintain objectivity. The result can be Compassion Fatigue, a specific type of emotional burnout that can happen to anyone at any age and cause debilitating symptoms.

Some of the warning signs of Compassion fatigue include:

  • excessive workloads that encroach on personal time;
  • feeling exhausted all the time; nightmares;
  • becoming pessimistic, irritable and losing faith in humanity;
  • alienating from others;
  • and becoming generally unhappy, unproductive and no longer on the top of your game.

Awareness is the first step in fighting Compassion fatigue. Dealing with the negative emotions that compassion fatigue is causing is paramount. It is important not to “stuff” your feelings. Find a way to debrief traumatic cases with another practitioner who understands and is supportive to help you process how you were affected by the case. Also, exercise, good sleep habits and general self-care are important. Maintaining balance between work and personal life and learning how to say “no” when you are already overloaded also are good practices. If need be, a therapist can be very beneficial in the fight against compassion fatigue.

Those who practice domestic and criminal law must remain especially vigilant against compassion fatigue. If you feel overwhelmed, burned out, and you or someone you know could use help regarding Compassion Fatigue, contact the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program. Your call is confidential as a matter of law and you do not have to give your name.

Self-Assessment Tests:
Compassion Fatigue Self-Test

Related Web Links:
American Bar Association – Compassion Fatigue
Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project
Compassion Fatigue – Bodily Symptoms of Empathy
Psycholawlogy – Judges(and lawyers), compassion fatigue and tools to respond effectively