Freeman Medical Musings Blog


Compassion Satisfaction

Posted by Dr. Kimberly Fielding, on September 03, 2015


When the weather is warm, a pool full of clear blue water is a welcome sight. When you need to cool down, a wading pool just won’t do! The pool metaphor refers to adults in children’s lives, i.e. adults are pools full of sources to share, or provide resources, to children. Compassion satisfaction occurs when a child-serving person’s pool is full, meaning that there is a healthy work-life balance and giving and receiving are integrated while serving. Water coming out of the pool is similar to an adult having positive feelings associated with giving. Water being added to the pool is similar to adults having the input of colleagues, training and/or inspiration. During compassion satisfaction, there is constant water motion.

Often, child-serving adults are aware of their meaningful contributions to children’s lives and the future of society. These adults experience compassion satisfaction when they anticipate and accept the inevitable personal changes that result from doing the important work. And it’s good work! The life of the helper transforms as the lives of others improve. The energy flow that results from helping others can invigorate these adults. Therefore, a person with compassion satisfaction has the confidence to know that he or she makes a difference, looks forward to finding new solutions, feels successful and wants to continue serving. It’s like an internal water hose into the swimming pool that sustains respect and encourages human resiliency. When satisfied helping professionals invest in people, they also invest in themselves!

Compassion satisfaction occurs when water flowing in and out of the pool is in proportion. Water going out may be in the form of effective, time-tested and well-crafted techniques delivered authentically by the helper. Even when the child’s behavior can be challenging, an adult can trust these methods:

  • Staying calm
  • Not taking things personally
  • Tuning into the function of the behavior
  • Role-modeling appropriate behavior
  • Instructing and building for the child’s future behavior

Consistently using effective techniques builds momentum and confidence, like a hose adding water to the pool. At the compassion satisfaction point along the continuum, the helper invites the swim.

However, without the purposeful movement of water going in and out, the water level of the pool may be full, but stagnant. This point on the continuum is often burnout. Since we are talking about water, some folks also refer to this stage as rust out. Like a pond that has no river feeding it or stream to carry water away, undesirable things can begin to grow inside the stale pool. In other words, the pool is growing slimy green algae instead of being crisp and clean. 

When burnout occurs due to unhappiness in the work itself, it can feel like you don’t have enough resources to get important work done. Burnout could be caused by environment, such as unpleasant noises or sights or space restrictions. Staleness could be due to the repetitive nature of the work, such as similar scenarios, same routines or low rates of effectiveness in change efforts. Burnout can also occur when you feel little connection with others, which may stunt enthusiasm for doing important work helping others. At this point, there is little to no water (resource) movement. Frustration can lead to preoccupation. Mistakes can become more frequent. Therefore, distractions increase while motivations decrease. At the burnout point along the continuum, the helper avoids the swim.

Prevention and intervention strategies for burnout include:

  • Use time-tested techniques
  • Remember why you do what you do
  • Check in with encouraging people who do similar important work
  • Take time for self-care
  • Have a friend to help track equal in and out flows
  • Create flexibility in times/places/cases in which you serve
  • Engage regularly in training and/or educational opportunities
  • Keep track of the stories that inspire you