Compassion fatigue in family caregivers: a Wilsonian concept analysis

J Adv Nurs. 2012 Sep;68(9):2125-34. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2012.05985.x. Epub 2012 Mar 21.


Aim: An analysis of the concept of compassion fatigue in family caregivers.

Background: The term 'compassion fatigue' is predominantly used with professional caregivers, such as nurses, doctors and social workers. Secondary traumatic stress, burnout, and other related terms are often cited in the literature in conjunction with compassion fatigue. Although compassion fatigue is linked to professional caregivers as a result of exposure to traumatizing events, minimal knowledge has been developed regarding its presence in family caregivers.

Data sources: Literature published between 1980-2010 from the humanities, nursing and the social sciences, including psychology, sociology, social work, and religion, was reviewed. Data sources included dictionaries, newspapers and multiple academic databases, such as Academic Search Complete, Atla, CINAHL, PsychInfo, and PubMed.

Review methods: Wilson's concept analysis strategy was employed to frame the analysis of compassion fatigue, using model, contrary, related, and borderline cases to illustrate the concept's meaning in relation to family caregivers.

Results: Analysis revealed that the concept is predominantly used in relation to healthcare providers. Parallels are drawn between the role of healthcare providers and family caregivers. Compassion fatigue occurs when a care-giving relationship founded on empathy potentially results in a deep psychological response to stress that progresses to physical, psychological, spiritual, and social exhaustion in the family caregiver.

Conclusion: This concept analysis clarified the definition and revealed that the concept of compassion fatigue has potential use with family caregivers. Implications for practice and research are identified.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Fatigue / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological