Are Empathy and Compassion Bad for the Professional Social Worker?

  • Peter Nilsson Dalarna University
Keywords: Compassion fatigue, secondary traumatic stress, empathy, compassion


Recent studies have shown that social workers and other professional helpers who work with traumatized individuals run a risk of developing compassion fatigue or secondary traumatic stress. Some researchers have hypothesized that helpers do this as a result of feeling too much empathy or too much compassion for their clients, thereby implying that empathy and compassion may be bad for the professional social worker. This paper investigates these hypotheses. Based on a review of current research about empathy and compassion it is argued that these states are not the causes of compassion fatigue. Hence, it is argued that empathy and compassion are not bad for the professional social worker in the sense that too much of one or the other will lead to compassion fatigue.

Author Biography

Peter Nilsson, Dalarna University
BSSW, PhD in philosophy, Senior Lecturer in social work at Dalarna University, Sweden.