Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work


School of Social Work

First Reader/Committee Chair

Armando Barragán


Due to the unpredictable nature of the social work profession, MSW interns may find themselves unprepared when dealing with clients that have suffered through traumatic events. For those that are not adequately prepared, there can be risks of experiencing compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is a process by which a professional’s inner experience is negatively transformed through empathic engagement with clients’ trauma material (Killian, 2008). This research project examined possible contributing factors to compassion fatigue among MSW students and recent MSW graduates from a large public university in Southern California. The study also focused on whether self-care methods were being used, what worked, and what participants did to prevent against symptoms of compassion fatigue and burnout.

The researcher utilized qualitative methods and conventional content analysis to identify themes and sub themes after completing one-on-one interviews with eight participants. Key findings from the study included that a lack of knowledge by student interns and recent graduates left them unable to define compassion fatigue although they recognized related concepts. Also, most of the participants actively engaged in self-care in order to keep their health and mental health fit. Last, participants described how working directly with child and adolescent clients that were vulnerable and had survived or experienced trauma could lead to compassion fatigue symptoms.

The research aims to benefit future social work practice by increasing awareness about what leads to compassion fatigue symptoms, reminding new social workers about self-care methods that protect against compassion fatigue, and by contributing to the implementation of better education, and or training policies within the field of social work about the risks of compassion fatigue.