Mastery vs. Misalignment: Identifying Types of Burnout

No Comments

Part of a series. Click here to read Beating the Burnout Blues by Michael Silverman, MD

More than half of the professionals I treat in my psychiatric practice suffer from some level of job burnout. Interestingly, most professionals don’t recognize burnout but instead complain of: 1) Anxiety that includes irritability, worry, concentration and memory problems, 2) Depression that includes apathy, withdrawal, pessimism and cynicism or 3) Substance Abuse, an increase use of a substance or starting a new one.

While medications can ease the suffering of burnout, they don’t solve the problem, so I always recommend therapy to address the cause. The origin of burnout falls into two broad camps. One is mastery. Professionals who happily threw themselves into their career are rarely that motivated around year ten. Mastery has robbed them of the joy of learning new things. In these cases we find ways to increase their challenges either by growing their business, starting a new one or taking a new position.


The other area of burnout comes from misalignment; the reason for taking the job doesn’t align with the outcome. An example is a physician who wanted to help people but is doing too much administrative work. In these cases we examine better ways to align the goal and outcome. This is elaborated on in a J Clin Psychol. 2000 May article, Treating Career Burnout.

In summary, job burnout needs to be considered in every professional that complains of an emotional problem. Addressing it directly in therapy can make a world of difference not only for the professional, but for everyone he works with and the profession in general.

Laura Dabney, MD is a psychiatrist who practices psychotherapy in her private practice in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Photo by Patrishe.



Laura Dabney, MD, is a psychiatrist who practices psychotherapy in her private practice in Virginia Beach, Virginia.  Learn more about her and her practice at

Leave A Reply