'Butterfly effect' of self-compassion

    Publication date: 01 December 2015

    Current civil society is expecting a lot from volunteers in informal care. These volunteers are, like professional carers, at high risk of compassion fatigue and reduced resilience. A promising positive psychological theme to tackle these problems in a preventive way is self-compassion.



    For this project, the existing intervention ‘Compassie als sleutel tot geluk, voorbij stress en zelfkritiek’ [Compassion as the key to happiness, beyond stress and self-criticism] will be modified into an online intervention for the volunteers of Sensoor. Sensoor is a nationally operating aid organisation that provides a gateway to a safety net for professional care. At Sensoor, more than 900 trained volunteers offer support to people by conducting interviews. Sensoor offers anonymous remote assistance by phone, chat and email, and it is the largest informal carer in the Netherlands.

    Sensoor volunteers offer at least half a day a week remote assistance and are - due to the required weekly efforts - partly at risk for compassion fatigue and reduced resilience because of stress. There are several causes:

    1. The feeling of never doing well enough: self-criticism aimed at improving themselves as a carer rather than to recognise that some properties cannot be changed;
    2. Social isolation through the fear that others think the carer cannot handle work properly. For this reason the carer does not want to share difficult conversations with colleagues;
    3. An imbalance between empathy and compassion for others and self-compassion; it lacks proper self-care and loving kindness to oneself and one is not aware of these feelings;
    4. The risk of over-identification: identifying the problems of the person seeking help with personal problems. The danger of compassion fatigue is that attention and the concentration and effective communication of the aid workers decrease and the decisiveness is negatively affected during the assistance. These problems pose a direct threat to the quality and continuity of care by Sensoor.

    The ‘butterfly effect’ of self-compassion

    A promising, positive psychological theme to address the above problems in a preventive manner is compassion. Compassion is the ability to feel involved in pain and suffering; both our own and that of others. It involves the desire and motivation to alleviate pain and suffering.

    The butterfly effect is a theory that assumes that the change of a single event can have major consequences. This study argues that self-compassion of informal carers of Sensoor leads to more compassion towards people asking for help at Sensoor, the 'butterfly effect' of self-compassion.

    Project description

    The central hypothesis of this PhD project is that the practice of self-compassion by informal carers of Sensoor - using the eHealth training “Compassion is the key to happiness online” - leads to more resilient and less compassion fatigue among the carers. Moreover, it leads to using more compassion in direct contact with help seekers, which increases the satisfaction of help seekers with the assistance of Sensoor.