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Factors Leading to Burnout

Burnout can be described as “the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion caused by long-term involvement in emotionally demanding situations” (James & Gilliland, 2017, pg. 548). People experiencing burnout can have a variety of symptoms, such as exhaustion, lack of sleep, feelings of helplessness, disillusionment, and negative attitudes about work, life, family, etc. (James & Gilliland, 2017). There are a variety of factors that can lead to burnout. For example, Somoray, Shakespeare, and Armstrong (2017) found that personality and secondary traumatic stress were related to burnout. More specifically, high levels of neuroticism (i.e., lack of emotional stability) greatly increased the risk of burnout (Somoray et al., 2017). Furthermore, secondary traumatic stress was also positively correlated with burnout (Somoray et al., 2017). Secondary traumatic stress occurs when the mental health or crisis worker becomes overwhelmed by another person’s stress and trauma and begins to mimic the traumatic responses or symptoms (James & Gilliland, 2017). It makes sense that these two factors are related. Failure to manage emotions of oneself and others may be a sign of a lack of personal boundaries. Therefore, the clinician may be unable to create personal boundaries and recognize when he/she is taking on too much of their clients’ emotions and traumatic responses.

James and Gilliland (2017) state the organization factors can also lead to burnout. Citing a study from Savicki and Cooley (1987), James and Gilliland (2017) report that clinicians are more likely to experience burnout if they do feel in control of their work environments or policies, have high workloads, feel unappreciated by colleagues and supervisors, or have little room for flexibility in treatment methods. Crisis workers often face very heavy, difficult caseloads. Added stressors, such as issues within the organization, only compound and exacerbate stress responses.

Preventing or Alleviate Burnout

There are a variety of ways to prevent or treat burnout, both at the individual and organizational levels. For example, in a literature review conducting by Dreison and colleagues (2018), found that person-directed interventions were more effective at treating emotional exhaustion. Sansbury, Graves, and Scott (2015) report that the first step in preventing burnout is that clinicians need to be aware of their own arousal state. Secondly, the clinician needs to monitor and address stress through monitoring bodily reactions and emotions (Sansbury et al., 2015). Third, the clinician should make a plan of action to purposely engage in self-care and monitoring behaviors (Sansbury et al., 2015). Some self-care activities can include personal therapy, mindfulness meditation, and exercise (Dattilio, 2015). It is important to remember that crisis workers are already equipped with the skills to manage self-care because that is what they are teaching their clients. It is just a matter of engaging purposely in those skills.

Alternatively, organizational-directed interventions were more effective at treating components related to reduced self-efficacy or accomplishment (Dreison et al., 2018). Examples of organizational-directed interventions can be training or education about how to create appropriate boundaries to reduce burnout. Furthermore, organizations should focus on creating positive coworker and supervisory relationships, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, along with reducing rules, regulations, and paperwork, as well as emotional support, have all been found to reduce burnout at the organizational level (James & Gilliland, 2017).


Dattilio, F. M. (2015). The Self-Care of Psychologists and Mental Health Professionals: A Review and Practitioner Guide. Australian Psychologist, 50(6), 393–399.….

Dreison, K. C., Luther, L., Bonfils, K. A., Sliter, M. T., McGrew, J. H., & Salyers, M. P. (2018). Job burnout in mental health providers: A meta-analysis of 35 years of intervention research. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 23(1), 18–30.…

Sansbury, B., Graves, K., & Scott, W. (2015) Managing traumatic stress responses

among clinicians: Individual and organizational tools for self-care. Trauma, 17(2), 114-122. doi: 10.1177/1460408614551978

Somoray, K., Shakespeare, F. J., & Armstrong, D. (2017). The Impact of Personality and Workplace Belongingness on Mental Health Workers’ Professional Quality of Life. Australian Psychologist, 52(1), 52–60.….

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