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What We’re Talking About When We Talk About Compassion Fatigue with Agnes Otzelberger
Episode 1012th November 2019 • You Are Not A Frog • Dr Rachel Morris
00:00:00 00:49:25

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In this episode, Rachel is joined by Agnes Otzelberger, a trainer, research and activist with a special interest in what happens when we tire of ‘doing good’.

We chat about what can happen to carers, healthcare staff and humanitarian workers when they become overwhelmed and burnt out by the magnitude of the needs and the suffering of the people they are dealing with on a day to day basis. We discuss how the symptoms affect us and ultimately can make us disillusioned and can end up with us leaving our job or becoming ill. 

This has traditionally been known as ‘compassion fatigue’ but the surprising thing is that neuroscience has shown that compassion fatigue doesn’t actually exist – what we end up suffering from is ‘empathic burnout’ or ‘fatigue’. When we hear other people suffering, the empathy area of our brain is activated – the same bit of the brain that experiences physical pain.

Fascinating research has shown that whether we suffer from empathic fatigue or not depends on which part of our brain we are using to process the things we see and hear. Buddhist monks who are able to access the ‘compassion’ area of the brain through the ‘empathy’ area in response to suffering seem to be immune from empathic fatigue. 

Agnes shares the research and reading she has been doing around this topic, discusses the treatments and strategies to prevent it, and shares some simple tips and methods for avoiding empathic fatigue and protecting us from its toxic effect. 

This podcast is a must for those who have ever felt that their compassion has just run out…

Podcast links Agnes’s website

Blog on compassion fatigue 

How Can I Help, Ram Dass and Paul Gorman

Standing at the edge, Joan Halifax

RAIN meditations at 

Contact Agnes 

The Good Jungle Facebook page 

Sign up for downloadable CPD reflection forms plus more tools and resources

For more episodes of You are not a frog, check out our website and sign up to our mailing list here for loads of useful resources about thriving at work. 

Follow Rachel on twitter @DrRachelMorris or LinkedIn and find out more about her online and face to face courses for doctors on surviving and thriving at work at or for other organisations at

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