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The Fatigue of Compassionate Service-Learning: A Qualitative Case Study in Community Psychology

Marco Gemignani


In service-learning university courses, it is often difficult to support an effective and healthy balance between performance in the field and students’ engagement in their community service. Based on the author’s teaching experience, this article presents a qualitative case study on the experiences of compassion, fatigue, responsibilization, and identification as they were reported by students and observed in the field. I conceptualize these experiences as linked to three main themes: the students’ first practical use of psychology-related knowledge, the social construction of their professional identity, and the perceived effectiveness of their field work. This study concludes with an argument to consider experiences of compassion as constructive although challenging components of service-learning courses. I suggest interpreting psychological and relational challenges as occasions for self-knowledge, engagement with the field, and understanding of the limits of power and responsibility in community service.


service learning; emotions; compassion fatigue; refugees; identity; qualitative case studies

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