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Rethinking compassion fatigue

Nathan Gerard (Department of Health Care Administration, California State University, Long Beach, California, USA)

Journal of Health Organization and Management

ISSN: 1477-7266

Article publication date: 15 May 2017




The purpose of this paper is to argue for a revision of the concept of compassion fatigue in light of both its history and psychodynamics.


This paper calls into question conventional interpretations of compassion fatigue and the assumptions underlying them. As an alternative, a psychoanalytic interpretation is offered that sheds light on the phenomenon’s unconscious and organizational dynamics. This interpretation also aligns with the concept’s historical use in media and politics.


In contrast to the assumption that compassion fatigue arises from too much compassion, historical use of the term suggests just the opposite: compassion fatigue is the result of too little compassion. Healthcare literature on compassion fatigue has not only failed to account for this opposing view, but also the underlying psychodynamics at play. By attending to these neglected dimensions, healthcare scholars and practitioners can gain new insights into compassion fatigue and devise more sustainable interventions.


This paper reveals hidden dimensions to compassion fatigue that call into question conventional interpretations and offer novel perspectives on a core concern of healthcare work.



Gerard, N. (2017), "Rethinking compassion fatigue", Journal of Health Organization and Management, Vol. 31 No. 3, pp. 363-368.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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