6 Tips to Prevent Therapist Burnout

Andrea Bustamante, B.A.
December 22, 2023
Photo by Alex Green from Pexels.


Burnout is a type of work-related stress characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion [1]. Burnout is significant amongst therapists. According to a survey, 45% of psychologists reported feeling burned out in 2022 [2].

For therapists, the emotional and physical effects of burnout have a negative impact not only in your academic and personal life, but also your professional life. Knowing how to identify burnout and address it can improve your quality of life and ability to help your clients.

What is Burnout?

Coined in the 1970s by psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Christina Maslach [3], burnout is made of three components: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a decreased sense of accomplishment. Burnout does not happen suddenly. Instead, it is a gradual process that can happen if distress is left unchecked for too long [4].

Burnout can be caused by workplace climate and setting factors where you feel like you have little control, monotonous or unchallenging tasks, or a lack of recognition [5]. Other workplace factors include long work hours and understaffing, administrative responsibilities and paperwork, violent and aggressive clients, fear of malpractice claims and ethical complaints, lack of resources [4].

Burnout can also be caused by lifestyle factors, such as a lack of supportive relationships and not getting enough sleep, or personality traits, such as pessimistic views of life, perfectionism, or high-achieving personalities [5].

Burnout is often confused with general stress, but there are some major differences, including:

  • Burnout happens for extended periods of time while stress is short-term and the result of a specific goal or event.
  • Burnout is characterized by disengagement while stress is characterized by over-engagement.
  • Burnout leads to loss of motivation, ideas, and hope while stress leads to loss of energy.
  • Burnout is primarily emotional while stress is physical [5].

Why is Preventing Burnout Important for Therapists?

Burnout negatively affects your quality of life and your work performance.

For therapists, it can lower the quality of service you provide by making you feel emotionally distanced or disengaged towards your clients, doubtful of your professional abilities, or lead you to provide more general and less personal guidance [6]. If burnout is not addressed, it can even lead you to consider a new position or leave the field [6].

For that reason, it is crucial for therapists to know the signs and symptoms of burnout and periodically self-assess. This way, you can make the changes needed to prevent or address burnout.

What are the Symptoms of Burnout?

There are general and therapist workplace-specific signs and symptoms that you can monitor.

General symptoms include physical and mental exhaustion, lowered immunity, sense of failure or self-doubt, loss of motivation and frequent cynicism, short temper, increased withdrawal and procrastination, and skipping work [5].

For therapists, some work-specific symptoms of burnout include:

  • Missing appointments or being relieved when clients cancel
  • Being late to sessions or ending them early
  • Doubting your competence or feeling less effective
  • Self-disclosing more often
  • Unable to stop thinking about clients’ traumas
  • Not setting and maintain healthy boundaries with clients [3]

Self-assessments are important in preventing burnout. By being aware of the signs, you can take preventative steps to address internal and external factors that can lead to burnout.

6 Tips to Prevent and Address Burnout

It is difficult to have complete control over the factors that lead to burnout. However, there are some steps that you can take to prevent and address burnout, including:

  • Set work boundaries: Establish work rules regarding no-shows, late appointment arrivals, and communication times and channels. Setting boundaries also includes limiting the number of patients you onboard and reducing paperwork Resources like Adhere.ly can help you make time  by automating assessment and therapeutic exercise reminders for your clients.
  • Seek support: Even therapists can benefit from attending therapy. Attending sessions can help you improve your mental health and receive personalized guidance [3].
  • Disconnect from work: Create spaces where you do not think about work. This can be after work hours, during the weekend, or during vacations.
  • Practice self-care: While self-care has become a “buzz” word on social media, it plays an important role in caring for yourself and preventing burnout. You can practice self-care by engaging in hobbies that you enjoy, exercising, and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule [3].
  • Socialize and nurture relationships: Connect with people that you care about; this can include family members, friends, or people from your community that share similar interests [5].
  • Acknowledge your impact: Therapists make a positive impact on people’s lives. Take a moment to remember that your work makes a difference and revisit the reasons why you chose your profession!


Many therapists face workplace factors that can lead to burnout on a consistent basis.

Whether you are experiencing burnout or are wanting to prevent it, it is important to know how to identify symptoms and what you can do to address burnout. Additionally, using resources like Adhere.ly can help you increase workplace efficiency so that you can make time to disconnect, practice self-care, and nurture important relationships outside of work.

Preventing burnout can help you maintain a good quality of life, continue enjoying your profession, and continue helping your clients!


[1] Mayo Clinic Staff. (2021, June 5). Job burnout: How to spot it and take action. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved October 26, 2023, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/burnout/art-20046642.

[2] Lin, L., Assefa, M., & Stamm, K. (2023, April 1). Practitioners are overworked and burned out, and they need our support. https://www.apa.org. Retrieved October 26, 2023, from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2023/04/psychologists-covid-burnout.

[3] Point Loma Nazarene University. (2023, February 22). Five Tips on How to Avoid Burnout as a Therapist. Retrieved October 26, 2023, from https://www.pointloma.edu/resources/counseling-psychology/five-tips-how-avoid-burnout-therapist.

[4] Barnett, Jeffrey. (n.d.). Distress, Therapist Burnout, Self-Care, and the Promotion of Wellness for Psychotherapists and Trainees. Society for the Advancement of Psychotherapy. Retrieved October 26, 2023, from https://societyforpsychotherapy.org/distress-therapist-burnout-self-care-promotion-wellness-psychotherapists-trainees-issues-implications-recommendations/.

[5] Smith, M., MA & HelpGuide.org. (2023, February 24). Burnout Prevention and Treatment. HelpGuide.org. Retrieved October 26, 2023, from https://helpguide.org/articles/stress/burnout-prevention-and-recovery.htm#:~:text=Burnout%20reduces%20productivity%20and%20saps,have%20nothing%20more%20to%20give.

[6] Captari-Scirri, D. (2023, March 1). Therapist Burnout: Signs, Causes, and Tips to Prevent it. Lyra Health. Retrieved October 26, 2023, from https://www.lyrahealth.com/blog/therapist-burnout/#:~:text=Burnout%20in%20counselors%20and%20other,the%20way%20of%20building%20rapport.