Mediators of Change in Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Clinical Burnout

Behav Ther. 2019 May;50(3):475-488. doi: 10.1016/j.beth.2018.08.005. Epub 2018 Aug 20.


Evidence supporting the effectiveness of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) for stress-related illness is growing, but little is known about its mechanisms of change. The aim of this study was to investigate potential mediators of CBT for severe stress in form of clinical burnout, using an active psychological treatment as comparator. We used linear mixed models to analyze data from patients (N = 82) with clinical burnout who received either CBT or another psychological treatment in a randomized controlled trial. Potential mediators (i.e., sleep quality, behavioral activation, perceived competence, and therapeutic alliance) and outcome (i.e., symptoms of burnout) were assessed weekly during treatment. The results showed that the positive treatment effects on symptoms of burnout favoring CBT (estimated between-group d = 0.93) were mediated by improvements in sleep quality, ab = -0.017, 95% CIasymmetric [-0.037, -0.002], and increase in perceived competence, ab = -0.037, 95% CIasymmetric [-0.070, -0.010]. Behavioral activation, ab = -0.004 [-0.016, 0.007], and therapeutic alliance, ab = 0.002 [-0.006, 0.011], did not significantly mediate the difference in effects between the treatments. Improving sleep quality and increasing perceived competence may thus constitute important process goals in order to attain symptom reduction in CBT for clinical burnout.

Keywords: clinical burnout; cognitive behavior therapy; exhaustion disorder; mediation.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Burnout, Psychological / psychology*
  • Burnout, Psychological / therapy*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Self Report*
  • Treatment Outcome