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Understanding Burnout

Our ‘Understanding…’ series is a collection of psychoeducation guides for common mental health conditions. Friendly and explanatory, they are comprehensive sources of information for your clients. Concepts are explained in an easily digestible way, with plenty of case examples and accessible diagrams. Understanding Burnout is designed to help clients suffering from burnout to understand more about their condition.

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A psychoeducational guide. Typically containing elements of skills development.


Languages this resource is available in

  • English (GB)
  • English (US)
  • Polish
  • Spanish (International)

Problems this resource might be used to address

Techniques associated with this resource

Introduction & Theoretical Background

Most people go through periods where they feel tired or unhappy at work. However, if your job leaves you feeling emotionally exhausted, beyond the point of caring, or unable to function normally, you might be experiencing burnout. Burnout is a common issue that can affect almost anyone in any job. Research suggests that around 18% of people struggle with high levels of burnout in some countries, and many more are at risk. While burnout is usually a work-related problem, it can arise in other settings, such as sport and education. If it isn’t addressed, burnout can lead to serious difficulties, including problems with your mental and physical health, work, or functioning in daily life. If you’ve been burned out in the past, you might be worried about it coming back. The good news is that burnout can be addressed in lots of different ways, whether working at the level of an individual, a team, or an organization. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective psychological treatment that can help you overcome this issue. This guide will help you to understand:
  • What burnout is.
  • Why burnout might not get better by itself.
  • Treatments for burnout.

Therapist Guidance

Our ‘Understanding…’ series is designed to support your clients:
  • Scaffold knowledge. The guides are perfect during early stages of therapy to help your clients understand how their symptoms fit together and make sense.
  • Reassure and encourage optimism. Many clients find it hugely reassuring to know there is a name for what they are experiencing, and that there are evidence-based psychological models and treatments specifically designed to help.
  • De-mystify the therapy process. To increase your client’s knowledge of the therapy process and the ingredients that it is likely to involve. If you can help your clients to understand why an intervention is important (think exposure!) it can help encourage them to engage.
  • Signposting. If you’re just seeing a client briefly for assessment, or you have a curious client who wants to know more, these resources can be a helpful part of guiding them to the right service.
  • Waiting time not wasted time. When you’ve assessed someone but their treatment can’t begin right away, psychoeducation can help them learn about how therapy can help while they’re waiting.
Each guide includes:
  • Case examples to help your clients relate to the condition, and to normalize their experiences.
  • Jargon-free descriptions of symptoms, and descriptions of how they might affect your thoughts, feelings, and actions.
  • A symptom questionnaire for screening assessment.
  • An accessible cognitive-behavioral account of what keeps the problem going, or what stops it from getting better.
  • A description of evidence-based treatments for that condition, including an overview of the ‘ingredients’ of a good cognitive behavioral approach.

References And Further Reading

  • Ahola, K., Toppinen-Tanner, S., & Seppänen, J. (2017). Interventions to alleviate burnout symptoms and to support return to work among employees with burnout: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Burnout Research, 4, 1-11.
  • Alarcon, G., Eschleman, K. J., & Bowling, N. A. (2009). Relationships between personality variables and burnout: A meta-analysis. Work and Stress, 23, 244-263.
  • Aronsson, G., Theorell, T., Grape, T., Hammarström, A., Hogstedt, C., Marteinsdottir, I., Skoog, I., Traskman-Bendz, L., & Hall, C. (2017). A systematic review including meta-analysis of work environment and burnout symptoms. BMC Public Health, 17, 1-13.
  • De Simone, S., Vargas, M., & Servillo, G. (2021). Organizational strategies to reduce physician burnout: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Aging Clinical and Experimental Research, 33, 883-894.
  • Goodger, K., Gorely, T., Lavallee, D., & Harwood, C. (2007). Burnout in sport: A systematic review. Sport Psychologist, 21, 127-151.
  • Hasselberg, K., Jonsdottir, I. H., Ellbin, S., & Skagert, K. (2014). Self-reported stressors among patients with exhaustion disorder: an exploratory study of patient records. BMC Psychiatry, 14, 1-10.
  • Hill, A. P., & Curran, T. (2016). Multidimensional perfectionism and burnout: A meta-analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 20, 269-288.
  • Kaeding, A., Sougleris, C., Reid, C., van Vreeswijk, M. F., Hayes, C., Dorrian, J., & Simpson, S. (2017). Professional burnout, early maladaptive schemas, and physical health in clinical and counselling psychology trainees. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 73, 1782-1796.
  • Lindblom, K. M., Linton, S. J., Fedeli, C., & Bryngelsson, I. L. (2006). Burnout in the working population: relations to psychosocial work factors. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 13, 51-59.
  • Madigan, D. J., & Curran, T. (2021). Does burnout affect academic achievement? A meta-analysis of over 100,000 students. Educational Psychology Review, 33, 387-405.
  • Maslach, C. (2003). Burnout: The cost of caring. Malor Books.
  • O’Connor, K., Neff, D. M., & Pitman, S. (2018). Burnout in mental health professionals: A systematic review and meta-analysis of prevalence and determinants. European Psychiatry, 53, 74-99.
  • Perski, O., Grossi, G., Perski, A., & Niemi, M. (2017). A systematic review and meta‐analysis of tertiary interventions in clinical burnout. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 58, 551-561.
  • Schaufeli, W. B., Bakker, A. B., Hoogduin, K., Schaap, C., & Kladler, A. (2001). On the clinical validity of the Maslach Burnout Inventory and the Burnout Measure. Psychology and Health, 16, 565-582.
  • Schaufeli, W., & Buunk, B. P. (2003). Burnout: An overview of 25 years of research and theorizing. In M. J. Schabracq, J. A. M. Winnubst, & C. L. Cooper (Eds.), Handbook of work and health psychology (pp. 383 – 425). Wiley.
  • Towey-Swift, K. D., Lauvrud, C., & Whittington, R. (2022). Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for professional staff burnout: a systematic review and narrative synthesis of controlled trials. Journal of Mental Health, 1-13.
  • Van Dam, A. (2021). A clinical perspective on burnout: diagnosis, classification, and treatment of clinical burnout. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 30, 732-741.
  • World Health Organization. (2019). International statistical classification of diseases and related health problems (11th ed.).