Two sides of the same coin? On the history and phenomenology of chronic fatigue and burnout

Stephanie S. Leone, Simon Wessely, Marcus J.H. Huibers, J. Andre Knottnerus, Ijmert Kant

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Burnout and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) are two fatigue syndromes which have developed largely independently from each other, yet whose similarities in symptoms can be a source of confusion. We aim to explore the phenomenology of burnout and CFS in a historical context as this may provide some insight into the links and relationship between these conditions. Method: A narrative review based on literature in the fields of history, social science and medicine. Results: The origins of CFS lie within medicine, whereas burnout developed in a psychological setting. As well as symptoms, burnout and CFS also share similar themes such as an overload process triggering illness onset, the need for restoration of depleted energy, external causal attributions and the characteristics of people suffering from these illnesses. However, these themes are expressed in either psychological or medical terms according to the historical background. Conclusion: Despite their similarities, there have been few direct comparisons of the two concepts. Culture, illness perceptions and accountability are important issues in both conditions and could contribute to their differences. Comparing burnout and CFS within one sample frame, thus looking beyond the psychology/medicine divide, could be a useful first step towards understanding their relationship.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-464
Number of pages16
JournalPsychology and Health
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Burnout
  • Chronic fatigue
  • History


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