New therapy for burn-out patients sees remarkable results


Flemish psychologist Elke Van Hoof has developed a burn-out therapy that employs techniques used to treat psychological trauma


Following news last month that the number of people absent from work in Belgium due to psychological problems had reached an alarming 140,000, a VUB researcher has announced that treating burn-out patients with therapy specifically designed for victims of trauma has an excellent success rate.

According to federal medical insurance agency Riziv, the number of people on long-term sick leave due to mental health issues had risen by a shocking 39% in only five years’ time. This is largely due to diagnoses of burn-out, Riziv said, and was costing the agency some €2 billion a year in sick-leave pay-outs.

VUB psychology professor Elke Van Hoof has carried out a pilot project in which she helped people feel better faster with Insourcing, a burn-out therapy she developed based on the techniques used to treat victims of trauma.


Psychological trauma is experienced by victims of global situations like military conflict or natural disasters, but also of a violent attack, for instance, or a fire or auto accident. “In my practice, I notice that patients with burn-out have a disconnect between feelings and logical reasoning, just as trauma patients do,” says Van Hoof. “They know objectively that they must stay calm and not be so afraid, but that doesn’t mesh with their emotions. By using trauma therapy techniques, we can bring this back into balance.”

An analysis of 100 burn-out patients who took part in the pilot project saw 70% back at work within three months. It’s an impressive figure: The most innovative technique used today in the UK sees a 50% success rate. And currently it takes on average more than six months for someone with burn-out to get back to work in Belgium.

According to Van Hoof, a crucial part of the therapy is that it is focused on work – and on the goal of going back to work. “An important step in the process is to find meaning in your work again,” she says. “You cannot completely recover if you do not feel useful. So we start immediately with the work grievances. We begin by stabilising patients’ feelings, and only then do we move on to analysing specific problems and looking for solutions.”

We really need to stop thinking of stability as a given and to see our companies more like ‘living labs’

- Psychologist Elke Van Hoof

While half of the 70% of those who went back to work chose to work elsewhere, the other half went back to the same job, or at least the same employer. “When people have the tools to deal with situations, it’s perfectly possible to go back to the same job with the same employer.”

Fewer than 1% of Van Hoof’s burn-out patients over the last two years have relapsed. “We really need to stop thinking of stability as a given,” explained Van Hoof. “We need to see our companies more like ‘living labs’, as a team of constantly evolving people who make up a whole but who also say goodbye when their goals no longer match.”

VUB has also developed a database of psychologists trained in the technique so that patients can find one close to where they live. The goal is to ensure that an Insourcing-trained specialist get in touch with a patient within 48 hours of a patient’s inquiry.

Van Hoof: “Insourcing can be rolled out across the whole country so that we can finally treat burn-out efficiently.” And that would save a whole lot of money, she says. To that end, VUB is in talks with political parties to get Insourcing recognised and implemented on a larger scale.