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What Is Burnout?

Our ‘What Is … ?’ series is a collection of one-page information handouts for common mental health conditions. Friendly and explanatory, handouts in the series describe how it can feel to struggle with a difficulty and are reliable sources of information for your clients. Drawing upon established cognitive behavioral models, each handout has a particular focus on maintaining factors that might prevent the problem from getting better. What Is Burnout? is designed to help clients suffering from burnout to understand more about their condition.

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A PDF of the resource, theoretical background, suggested therapist questions and prompts.

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Languages this resource is available in

  • English (GB)
  • English (US)
  • Vietnamese

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Introduction & Theoretical Background

Everyone has bad days at work, and problems with our workload, role, organization, or personal life can be difficult. For most of us, stress is an unavoidable part of work that comes and goes. In fact, a little stress can sometimes help us focus and perform at our best. But what if every workday is a bad day? When work-related stress becomes too great or goes on for too long, it can lead to serious problems. ‘Burnout’ describes what happens when we feel so depleted by the stresses of work that we struggle to perform. It’s as if our energy for work is ‘extinguished’ by prolonged stress, leaving us feeling emotionally drained, unmotivated, and ineffective. 

The What Is Burnout? information handout is designed to help clients suffering from burnout understand more about their condition. It includes:

  • A summary of the most common symptoms of burnout.
  • Descriptions of what it can feel like to have burnout.
  • A description of why burnout might not get better by itself.
  • A brief overview of evidence-based psychological treatments for burnout.

Therapist Guidance

Our ‘What Is … ?’ series is designed to support your clients:

  • 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.
  • Scaffold knowledge. The handouts are perfect during early stages of therapy to help your clients understand how their symptoms fit together and make sense.
  • 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.

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.
  • Maslach, C. (2003). Burnout: The cost of caring. Malor Books.
  • 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.
  • 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.).