School of Behavioral Sciences


Doctor of Education in Community Care and Counseling (EdD)


John King


COVID-19, substance use disorder, compassion fatigue, burnout, secondary trauma, self-care, SUD counselors


Counseling | Social Work


This phenomenological study aimed to understand the experience of compassion fatigue in substance use counselors in Western New York during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many studies have reviewed burnout, compassion fatigue, and secondary trauma and have discussed the outcomes of their unmanaged effects on healthcare professionals. Few have focused directly on the impact that key contributors of compassion fatigue have on substance abuse disorder (SUD) counselors. This qualitative study is designed to support substance abuse counselors’ mental health and well-being. Counselors are exposed to clashing situations such as turnover, larger caseloads, client trauma, regulations, lack of training, lack of understanding of self-care–or a combination of all–which can lead to compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue can negatively affect the therapeutic relationship, the overall treatment outcome, and the counselor's personal and professional life. Evaluating the various key contributors of compassion fatigue during a global pandemic promotes change in recognizing the importance of self-care and provides guidance on the multidimensional facets of compassion fatigue for substance-use counselors. Several studies attempt to understand burnout, compassion fatigue, and secondary trauma while they support other healthcare and mental health careers during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, few studies attempt to understand the challenges and struggles SUD counselors go through in silence.