How to Fight Burnout as a Therapist

Written by Thomas Jorno

Nick Blonski, UNM DPT ’21

     As a physical therapist, we are placed in high paced environments that push us to what feels like our breaking point. They do this to teach us the most or to get out the most productivity from us because as much as we don’t like to view it in this way physical therapy is still a business. Over time this begins to take a toll on our ability to care for our patients as well as we would like to. Yet no one wants to talk about how this is affecting our therapists.

     A study by Anderson E, Gould-Fogerite S, Pratt C, & Perl A (2015) took a look at burnout among physical therapists. They defined burnout as “an occupational, psychological syndrome defined by three dimensions, high emotional exhaustion (EE), high depersonalization (DP) and feelings of low personal accomplishment (PA).” They surveyed 6,500 members of the APTA (American Physical Therapy Academy) of these 6,500 members 1,366 physical therapists responded to the survey. From the surveys results 13% of respondents reported having burnout, 29% reported having high emotional exhaustion, and 15% reported having high stress, which is correlated with emotional exhaustion. 

     From this data it is seen that among the 1,366 respondents to the survey around 177 physical therapists are experiencing burnout (high emotional exhaustion, high depersonalization, and feelings of low personal accomplishment). More alarming however may be the fact that 29% or 396 respondents reported emotional exhaustion. This in itself may not be considered burnout, but for the profession that works so hard to improve QOL (quality of life) why don’t we pay attention to our own QOL? 

      Panagioti, M, Geraghty, K and Johnson, J (2018) reports that burnout has been linked to mental illness, substance abuse, and suicide in physicians. They also reported that due to burnout patient quality of care suffers, patient safety is negatively affected, and patient satisfaction goes down. These are all things that I think all health care providers can sit and look at and go, burnout is something that needs to be prevented not only for our patients but also for our health providers QOL and health. So why is nothing being done about this?

      Now the question becomes what can we do about burnout? We can begin to work on decreasing burnout rates by beginning to hire more support staff for therapists. By having more staff working with insurance companies and scheduling patients it will allow therapists to focus their energy on treating patients and not feel overwhelmed by scheduling, answering phones, and trying to treat patients. Another idea is to foster a new culture within our clinics that promotes self-care. Clinics can do this by taking opportunities to go to different course on self care, work with local businesses to get discounts to gyms, workshops, or other self-care activities for their staff. Finally allowing your therapists and staff to have a spot they feel comfortable talking about burnout or how they are feeling. Do this through either individual or small group sessions can be helpful. However if this isn’t possible with clinic schedules taking an opportunity to have a monthly meeting that are therapist run can help foster an environment where therapists and staff feel heard about the issues that may be leading to burnout. 

     Burnout is an issue that isn’t talked about enough in the healthcare profession. With a little more than ⅛ of therapists reporting burnout it is becoming an epidemic that needs to be addressed. Taking small steps to focus on self-care for therapists, creating an environment where therapist are heard, and promoting new cultures within the clinic will help improve therapist QOL and improve the quality of care for our patients.


Panagioti, M, et al. “Association Between Physician Burnout and Patient Safety, Professionalism, and Patient Satisfaction: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” JAMA Intern Med, vol. 178, no. 10, 1 Oct. 2018, pp. 1317–1330. PubMed, doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.3713.

Zambo Anderson, E, et al. “Identifying Stress and Burnout in Physical Therapists.” Physiotherapy Journal, vol. 101, no. 1, May 2015, pp. E1712–E1713. Google Scholar, doi: