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Giving takes: Psychologist burnout


Burnout. This term was first coined by Freudenberger in 1975 to describe a state that is comprised of three components: emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and a decreased sense of accomplishment. Many of us have experienced some degree of burnout, and in this line of work the rate of burnout can be high even under normal circumstances.

Burnout presents in a wide range of ways, from feeling overwhelmed by seemingly small things, to relief when plans or commitments are cancelled, finding less enjoyment and fulfilment in your work, right through to the development of unhelpful coping mechanisms, such as the recurring idea that “if I can just push through this session, this day, this week, I’ll be fine”.

It’s important to take time to reflect on what burnout looks like for you. As psychologists we already know about the effects of our stress response remaining activated for an extended period of time. One important thing to remember is that we, just like our clients, are human.

There’s something exceptional about sharing trauma that can build a strong bond with our clients – a bond that can be helpful for that relationship. But, it can take a toll on us over time, especially when we compound that by sharing that same kind of relationship with a revolving door of new and existing clients. That uncertainty and change can further compound and build on that toll, and when combined with factors like family, financial stress, and all the other events and circumstances we need to balance in our own personal lives can easily lead to burnout.

That’s why it’s so important to practise what we preach and take care of ourselves. Consider the last time you took a break. Have you taken effective time off over the last year? Do you take breaks between weeks, between days, even between sessions, to focus on your self-care?

Some common warning signs that burnout might be approaching include disturbed sleep, difficulties with concentration and focus, failing to take breaks, skipping meals or working while you eat, feeling a decrease in your levels of compassion (“compassion fatigue”), loss of fulfilment and motivation in your work, feeling relief when a client cancels, overlooking your personal needs, and finding it difficult or impossible to disconnect at the end of the day (Barnett, 2008).

So, what can we do?

Self-care! Stayed tuned for our next blog post that explores self-care tips and tricks.


Steph Sier
Mental Health Accredited Social Worker
Q Psychology

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