The scientific and medical knowledge developed through animal research has saved countless lives and improved the health outcomes for both humans and animals.
However, the ethical cost of using animals in research may cause some individuals to experience emotional distress, especially if strong bonds are formed between themselves and the research animals, or if they perform euthanasia as part of their occupational/research duties.
It is important to acknowledge that these feelings and emotions, commonly referred to as “compassion fatigue,” are not only legitimate and appropriate responses to the work you do with animals, but, when expressed through the proper channels, can actually be used to enhance and support the research environment you create for both your colleagues and the animals under your care.
The Compassion Awareness Project (CAP) is a Unit for Laboratory Animal Medicine (ULAM) led initiative to address the issue of compassion fatigue, including the subsequent mental and physical health issues, and job-related concerns it can cause.
CAP uses a multifaceted approach to engage and educate all departmental staff, with the goal of reducing compassion fatigue and improving job satisfaction.
Everyone in the animal research community is welcome to participate in CAP events.
Events typically follow a variety of formats:
- Seminars featuring self-care strategies to improve resilience,
- Lunch & Learns connecting staff to the life-changing research being done at U-M,
- Enrichment crafting where enrichment is made for a variety of species,
- And much more!
If you are struggling with compassion fatigue, there are resources that can help:
- Read the Cost of Caring Brochure provided by the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS)
The U-M also provides mental wellness programs and counseling services, FREE OF CHARGE, to all faculty, staff, and students:
- U-M Faculty and Staff –
Contact the Faculty and Staff Counseling and Consultation Office at (734) 936-8660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Michigan Medicine Faculty and Staff –
Contact the Michigan Medicine Office of Counseling & Workplace Resilience at (734) 763-5409 or email@example.com.
Compassion Fatigue FAQs
Increase or decrease in sleep, decreased cognitive ability, impaired behavior and judgment, loss of morale, depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), less self-worth, difficulty controlling emotions, loss of hope and meaning, and/or anger.
High staff turnover, absenteeism, decreased morale, poor attitude, reduced job performance, and/or an uncaring or callous attitude toward animals.
It's important to remember that the journey of self-care is a very personal one, and what works for someone else may not work for you. After conducting a substantial amount of research, we have found the following resources to be especially helpful:
- Compassion in Science from the University of Washington
- Self-Compassion Resources by Dr. Kristen Neff
- Science-Based Insight for a Meaningful Life from UC Berkeley
- MHealthy – Mental and Emotional Health from the University of Michigan
- Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project founded by Patricia Smith
- Compassion Fatigue from The North American 3Rs Collaborative
- Rekindling: Compassion Fatigue Solutions for Animal Workers – Julie Squires
- Happier with Gretchen Rubin
- 10% Happier with Dan Harris
- The Compassion Fatigue Podcast – Jennifer Blough
- The Good News Podcast – Cards Against Humanity
- Motivated – Mara Schiavocampo
- The Science of Happiness – PRI and the Greater Good Science Institute
- To Save a Starfish: A Compassion Fatigue Workbook for the Animal Welfare Warrior. Jennifer Blough, LLPC
- The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive. Dr. Kristen Neff and Dr. Christopher Germer
- Radical Acceptance. Dr. Tara Branch
- The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. Gretchen Rubin
- The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative. Florence Williams
- The Self-Care Project. Jayne Hardy
The Compassion Fatigue Committee was started in 2016 by Kaile Bennett, BS, RLATg, CLABP, and Dr. Marian Esvelt to address the growing concern of compassion fatigue amongst laboratory animal care staff.
The project was renamed the U-M Compassion Awareness Project (CAP) in 2018 and came under the current leadership of ULAM Animal Enrichment Coordinator Jenny Jones, BS, RLAT, CLABP, Certified Compassion Fatigue Educator, and REAL Project Lead/Social Housing Coordinator Sarah Thurston, BS, LAT, CLABP, with Dr. Patrick Lester serving as the Faculty Advisor.
In 2019, the group received an Educational Grant from the Michigan Animal Health Foundation to help promote their compassion awareness initiatives and advance their future compassion fatigue directives.
ULAM's Compassion Awareness Project (CAP) and associated staff have presented, and been featured at, multiple laboratory animal science conferences and events, including:
- 2021 District 5 American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) Meeting
- CAP will be a featured sponsor at the 2021 District 5 AALAS Meeting
- 2020 Public Responsibility in Medicine & Research (PRIM&R) IACUC Virtual Conference
- "Compassion Fatigue: Beyond Sharing Your Pain"
- 2019 National AALAS Meeting
- "To the Elevator and Beyond: Improving Work-related Conversations with Family and Friends as a Tool to Reduce Compassion Fatigue"
- 2018 Lab Roots: Laboratory Animal Science Virtual Event
- "Engaging through Enrichment: How the Animal Enrichment Committee Works to Combat Compassion Fatigue" (view the archived webinar)
- The U-M Laboratory Animal Research Coordinator Certification Program (LARCC)
- CAP added to the annual curriculum for the LARCC Program
Please consider reaching out to us if you would like more information about the Compassion Awareness Project, or if you think you may be struggling with compassion fatigue; we are here to help.
Contact us at CompassionFatigue@umich.edu for additional information regarding strategies to prevent and mitigate compassion fatigue, or if you are interested in having us come and talk to your research group.