Oklahoma Bar Journal

Compassion Fatigue: The Residual Effects of Caring for Others

By Dr. Robyn Goggs

How often do you wear your work home?Not the idea that you take home a file to examine, but that you take the thoughts, feelings, concerns and even horrors of your clients with you in your head, and at random moments, when you should be enjoying your family or having fun, those thoughts interrupt your life. I would venture to say this has happened for most attorneys who are committed to the work of serving others.

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One family law attorney recently said to me, “Our clients come to us in the most difficult times of their lives and invite us into situations that involve their most important people and their most valued things. We experience many emotions of our clients.”

The long-term care of others was coined “compassion fatigue” in the 1960s. It was originally referring to the continued charitable ask people were experiencing. This term has expanded over the decades and researched through multitudes of helping professions. It has especially come into the spotlight during the recent year of the COVID pandemic and its effects on health care workers.

The best, simple definition of compassion fatigue is “mental exhaustion where you care about the work you are doing for the people around you, but you don’t have the energy and/or motivation to do anything about it.”1 Compassion fatigue is the first and milder alert to a person serving others that burnout might be next. Ask yourself:

  • Am I avoiding phone calls?
  • Am I failing to complete tasks in a timely manner?
  • Have I lost some of the drive I used to have?
  • Do I feel tired and indifferent or irritated about several areas of my life?
  • Am I having any unusual health issues?
  • Do I feel emotional detachment from my clients?
  • Do I want to isolate myself from others?

These are signs of compassion fatigue.

Think about the stories you hear, the demands that are made of you, the expectations your clients might put upon you related to their own needs or desperation. Over time and many changes, this can have a fatiguing effect on a person. This year has been full of many changes for all. Think of the bleeding together of work and home life, the new legal, emotional and health issues that have arisen because of the pandemic. Anxiety is reported to be at an all-time high within our culture. Attorneys are seeing and feeling the residual effects of this in their work too. At times, one may not feel supported by the infostructure of authority in the workplace or is struggling to have the resources personally and professionally to accomplish the work. This may cause an overwhelming feeling that can lead to emotional detachment in the work of an attorney.



First and foremost, cultivate self-care. One of the best ways to do this is by being aware of boundaries. Find ways to make a separation between work roles and other roles. Create margins in your life to enjoy hobbies and savor moments away from work. Build a network of support with colleagues – one way to do that is by identifying a trusted mentor or by joining the monthly Lawyers Helping Lawyers Assistance Program discussion groups that meet in Oklahoma City and Tulsa and are led by other attorneys. Seek help when you need it. Take advantage of the six free counseling sessions you have each year as a member of the OBA. All are ways to build your mental muscles and resilience in life, which leads to longevity in careers.

The first step is just taking a mental pause and honestly evaluating yourself. Amid taking care of others, is it time for you to take care of yourself?



Dr. Robyn Goggs is a licensed practicing counselor at A Chance to Change. She is an Oklahoma native, graduated from OCU and did graduate work at Southern Methodist University and American University. Dr. Goggs is currently the mental health representative for the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Assistance Program Committee. Her role is to assess and connect attorneys to the resources LHL offers throughout the state. She is a passionate advocate for people getting the help they need to be the best versions of themselves.




  1. Aten, 2021.

Oklahoma Bar Journal – OBJ 93 Vol 4 (April 2022)