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Erric Solomon

Tania Singer, PhD: Overcoming Compassion Fatigue

Doctors, Nurses and care givers of all kinds often report that they go through periods of apathy, hopelessness, anxiety and depression in response to constant exposure to human suffering. This is sometimes referred to as “Compassion Fatigue”. Even being exposed to lost of negative stories in the news can trigger symptoms in people. So what is going on?

During this interview with Tania Singer, PhD., from the 2013 Buddhism and Medicine conference, she shares her view that, in such cases, what stricken caregivers are suffering from is actually “Emapthy Fatigue”. In fact, by doing classic Buddhist Compassion based practices of Tonglen or Metta meditation can result a total absence of symptoms and actually better overall ability for caregivers to cope with constant stress of exposure to extreme human suffering.

What her research seems to show is that brain circuits that get activated for empathy are very different than compassion. People who undergo empathy training exclusively can actually experience increased negative feelings after a time. But when the same people then go through compassion training, not only do the negative feelings normalize, but they experience more positive feelings when exposed to lots of suffering. So, by learning to transform empathy into compassion we can not only better focus on the needs of others, but we feel better overall.

Dr. Singer is the Director of the Department of Social Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig. She specializes in the psychological and neuroscientific effects of compassion and meditation training, and other mental training techniques. 

Tania Singer, PhD: Overcoming Compassion Fatigue from WhatMeditationReallyIs on Vimeo.


For more of our interviews from the conference, click here and scroll to the bottom