Why we burn out as therapists of colour 


Therapists who are people of colour (POC) face excessive burnout in their workplaces for several reasons. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress, and it is a common experience among healthcare professionals. However, for POC therapists, burnout is often compounded by racial trauma, microaggressions, discrimination, and systemic barriers in the workplace. 

Therapists of colour, especially the ones who work in settings requiring intensive support like housing, schools, and crisis wards in public hospitals, often face a heavier workload than their white counterparts due to systemic inequities. Almost always, the demand for mental health services is high but the resources are limited. These settings often have high patient-to-therapist ratios, limited time for sessions, and a lack of support staff, which can lead to high levels of stress and burnout. POC therapists are also more likely to work with clients who experience multiple forms of oppression, such as racism, poverty, and discrimination, which can be emotionally taxing and often results in vicarious trauma for practitioners.

Unfortunately, people of colour face racial trauma and microaggressions in their workplaces, even in mental health settings, which can lead to burnout. Racial trauma refers to the psychological and emotional damage caused by experiencing or witnessing racism, discrimination, and oppression. POC therapists may experience racial trauma when they encounter racism from clients, colleagues, or supervisors, or when they witness racism against their clients. Microaggressions are subtle, everyday forms of discrimination that can be as harmful as overt racism. These experiences can lead to chronic stress, emotional exhaustion, and burnout.

Of course, systemic barriers in their workplaces can exacerbate burnout. Systemic barriers include policies, practices, and cultures that perpetuate racism, discrimination, and inequality in the workplace. For example, POC therapists may face barriers to advancement, such as lack of access to mentorship or professional development opportunities, which can contribute to feelings of frustration and helplessness. They may also face biases in hiring and promotion, which can limit their career opportunities and impact their sense of belonging in the workplace. Additionally, many of us face a lack of culturally responsive resources and training, which can impact our ability to provide effective care to clients and lead to feelings of isolation and frustration. 

To mitigate burnout among therapists of colour, workplaces must address systemic inequities, promote cultural humility and safety, and provide targeted support and resources. At a larger scale, these changes can look like diversifying leadership, improving workplace culture, and addressing microaggressions and discrimination. Providing training and resources that are culturally responsive and trauma-informed can also help us feel more supported and equipped to provide care. At an individual level, seeking mentorship, collective learning and professional development opportunities, and building strong networks with other POC therapists can also help us  cope with burnout. If you are a professional who is finding yourself at risk of burnout and loneliness in the workplace, come join our peer consultation network at The Other Chair exclusively for therapists of colour!