Frazer Blog

How Funeral Directors Can Fight Compassion Fatigue and Burnout

by | Aug 25, 2017 | Funeral Profession

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Would you join a war zone training simulation to battle compassion fatigue and burnout?

It’s not as crazy as it sounds. In fact, thousands of people have used war zone training to combat compassion fatigue and build up resilience in high-stress professions.

Red Kite Project: Combating Compassion Fatigue

The Red Kite Project is an innovative training and work consulting agency. They use rigorous training methods that were designed specifically for war zones and apply them to high-pressure jobs, such as health care professionals.

According to their website, Red Kite Project’s mission is “To assist organizations and their workforce to rise above obstacles to well-being and safety.  We seek to revolutionize how training is delivered so that no employee ever needs to sit through a boring and useless class again.”

One of Red Kite’s main focuses is combating employee burnout — which is a common problem for death care professionals.

Compassion Fatigue, Burnout, and Funeral Professionals

Let’s talk about what they are. Burnout and compassion fatigue are similar, but they aren’t the same.

Compassion fatigue is a secondary traumatic stress disorder. Essentially, it’s about caring so much it begins to hurt. Symptoms include a decrease in energy, dread of going back to work, feelings of failure, and negativity about one’s profession.

According to Michael K. Kearney, MD, compassion fatigue “means that by being close to our patients, physicians, and nurses, in an empathic way, are at risk of being traumatized by the patient’s suffering.” For a funeral professional, compassion fatigue stems from working closely with client families.

Burnout, on the other hand, develops from overwhelming occupational stress. It leads to emotional and physical exhaustion, as well as feelings of detachment, depression, and can lead to the formation of harmful habits. Without practicing proper self-care, compassion fatigue can quickly lead to burnout.

Chaplain Joe Davis, a Certified Trauma Services Specialist (CTSS), does a good job of listing the key differences between the two. According to a recent article that appeared in the California Funeral Directors Association’s Newslines, the differences are:

Compassion Fatigue

  • I still do care
  • Temporary – take a break
  • Loss of fuel and energy
  • Over-engagement
  • Physical damage


  • I don’t care anymore
  • Requires more than a break
  • Loss of ideals and hope
  • Disengagement
  • Emotional/spiritual damage

Both remain a real threat to funeral professionals and can impact their ability to compassionately serve families. Practicing self-care is a must for funeral professionals.

Ways to Beat Burnout and Fight Compassion Fatigue

Warzone training might be one way to fight burnout and compassion fatigue, but there are other options you can start using right away. Some immediate self-care ideas include:

  • Get a better understanding of why compassion fatigue/burnout occurs. Educate yourself (and others) with resources, workshops, and helpful articles.
  • Recognize the signs. Denial is a common symptom of compassion fatigue and leads to a slow recovery.
  • Practice relaxation techniques. Everyone has their own, find what works for you. It could be yoga, meditation, biking, or hiking. Whatever it is, set aside weekly time for your relaxation and stick to it.
  • Eat well. There’s a reason that the saying “you are what you eat” has stuck around so long. It works. By maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, you’ll begin to feel refreshed. On the flip side, try and minimize foods with negative effects, such as lots of sugar, caffeine, etc.
  • Attend a workshop or meeting. It could be an NFDA course, the Red Kite Project, or even a local support group. By connecting with others, you lessen the risk of burnout.
  • At the end of the day, remember to treat yourself. You’re only human. And you need to care for yourself first in order to continue offering your families the compassionate care in their time of need.

What are ways your funeral home fights compassion fatigue and burnout? Share with us in the comments below!


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