Burnout – A Guide to Identifying Burnout and Pathways to Recovery

Book Review

by Dr Bibiana Chan

Burnout – A Guide to Identifying Burnout and Pathways to Recovery

By Gordon Parker, Gabriela Tavella and Kerrie Eyers. 

I came across this book recently on ABC Breakfast on TV. My PhD research supervisor Prof Gordon Parker was interviewed to talk about his new book on Burnout. I have long been interested in the topic of Burnout which has an equivalent Chinese term 筋疲力盡 (Jīnpílìjìn) describing a state of ‘total exhaustion’! What is so interesting for me was that the reference to ‘total exhaustion’ in the Chinese concept had a single focus on the physical aspect of the body. The body was so very tired that it had consumed (finished/exhausted) all its strength.

The authors first presented a historical view of how ‘burnout’ is measured and diagnosed. According to the World Health Organisation’s ICD-11 manual: Burnout is

·       Energy depletion and exhaustion,

·       Increased mental disturbance from one’s job or feelings of negativism and cynicism related to one’s job and

·       Reduced professional efficacy.  

It is followed by the discussion on how their research team developed a ‘Sydney Burnout Measure’. They have confirmed the following about burnout: 

·       Exhaustion is a central component

·       Loss of Empathy or inability to feel

·       Work performance is compromised

What is new?

·       Impaired cognition – difficulty in concentrating; lowered attention span, poor memory, distractibility

·       Burnout and depression are not synonymous

·       Perfectionism heightens the risk of burnout

I vividly remember my own experience of something similar to total exhaustion, impaired cognition and inability to ‘feel’ anything! However, I still pushed myself to work harder. My perfectionist voice was screaming loud and clear at me: ‘Pull yourself together!’ ‘Life has to go on!’ I was also told by my Chinese friends and family, ‘No Big Deal la!’ ‘You are so weak/fragile! Everyone is doing it tough la!’

I wish Prof Parker and his research team would have published this book a quarter of a century earlier! Thus, I could complete the ‘Sydney Burnout Measure’ and ‘Perfectionism Scale’ available as Appendix A & C at the back of the book. The book also provides a very comprehensive comparison of the different features (primary symptom, predisposing personality style, attribution etc.) between melancholic depression, non-melancholic depression and burnout. For those who are keen to dig into the biology of burnout, there is a chapter for you. The book also answers the question ‘what is burnout anyway?’ with real life case studies.

Media CEO Arianna Huffington wrote a book ‘Thrive’ after recovering from a bout of burnout. She advocates for a radical change on how society defines success. She has new insight into the importance of wellbeing, wisdom, wonder and giving to lead a truly thriving life!

 It doesn’t stop from there, the last session illustrated what you can do to make a change. I found this very practical and useful. It outlines seven basic steps to recovery in chapter 19.  I encourage you to grab this book and find out the details. 

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