The Power of Diverse Perspectives in Mental Health
Many Black Americans have a complicated relationship with mental health. There is the obstacle of affordable costs or finding a therapist that can identify with you racially, and from harassments to microaggressions to the bombardment of injustices detailed in the media, we are a community that wants to fend for themselves with the stigma to lean on our roots instead of seeking outside help. This month our therapists help tear down some of those boundaries in our Q&A.
Q: With the generational and societal trauma the black community faces and is often forced to internalize, even from something as simple as turning on the news, how does one know that their personal struggles warrant receiving professional help?
A: (Dr. Valencia Agnew) "You have to take a look at where you are. When you move from “I need to deal with it” to a sense of apathy about it, when you are trying to cover it up and pretend like it’s not there, that’s a sign that you need to deal with it, because you’re not truly okay with it. Most likely you’re trying to cover it up because you’re afraid of what may come out if you really look at it. If you’re afraid it may make you angry and that you’ll snap at somebody, whether they are or aren’t responsible, then you should look at it. When you’re afraid to deal with it because the tears may start flowing and never stop, you should probably process that with somebody.
There is a difference between facing the reality of racism and doing so with unhealthy coping mechanisms. That is beyond simply facing what exists. If you’re having nightmares about the things that happen on the news, you might need additional support. Yes, you can turn off the news, but if it’s prevailing in your thoughts and dreams, it’s letting you know that it’s impacting you on a different level. When you look at yourself and you’re not okay with being in your own skin because of your color, your features, your hair—messages that you’ve received over and over in subtle ways, then you know you need some additional help."
A: (Samantha Lemmer, LLPC)
"Research shows the far-reaching physical and mental health effects of generational and societal trauma in the Black community. From hypertension to depression, the effects of persistent and pervasive racism over multiple generations of a people is profound. To acknowledge our history, we must acknowledge our pain.
Collectively, the health inequities that Black Americans face imbed a belief that mental health access, trust in medical professionals, and the right to utilize appropriate services are out of reach. Health justice exists in many forms. The evolution of thought, believing that my individual slice of an undeniably racist collective experience warrants expert assistance, is imperative. It is our right and our responsibility to promote healing among our communities, our families, and within ourselves."
Q: The stigma of mental health in the black community isn’t just the fear of being judged but the fear of being unable to receive help from someone who understands your perspective. How does someone overcome these obstacles?
A: (Brianna Taylor, MA, TLLP, LLPC)
"Firstly it is important to validate this fear. There are many situations in life where race has unjustly gotten in the way of getting the services that are needed and of being understood or heard. Taking time to find a therapist that is the right fit can help with this fear. If it is more comfortable to be seen within your race, websites such as Psychology Today and TherapyDen have a specific filter for ethnicity or race. Often it takes time to find a therapist that feels as if they are a good fit. If going off of biographies feels like too much or not enough, you can always ask for a brief consult to see if the relationship will work.
There is a level of vulnerability we must endure to overcome this fear. If we can do some internal digging to know what we need in a therapist and put some patience into finding the right fit, because it could take more than one attempt (and that's okay), there can be a fruitful outcome."
Q: How can clients advocate for themselves? What questions can they ask to judge if a therapist is a good fit for their cultural perspective and needs?
A: (Hasina Bankston, LMSW)
"The truth is forming a therapeutic alliance is not a one size fits all approach. Do your research. Next, shop around while seeking a therapist that aligns with your cultural and spiritual values. When a therapist is culturally sensitive, it emphasizes a their understanding of a client’s background, ethnicity, and belief system.
If it is hard to discern from an online profile or telephone call, asking for a meet and greet is an appropriate requirement before you commit. Ask questions such as, “Do you have expertise working with someone like me?” Remember you are the best advocate for yourself. Take your time. Remember the connection and quality of the relationship between a therapist and client are critical to successful therapy and personal growth."
A: (Dr. Valencia Agnew)
"A culturally competent therapist is going to be a person who engages in an ongoing process of developing awareness. It is not a one and done type of thing. The therapist will want to know about your cultural identity and experiences with stigma and discrimination.
Ask about their education, training and work with diverse populations. Ask if the therapist is comfortable talking about racial differences and White privilege and how that may or may not impact therapy. Ask about how many clients of color they have seen more than 6 times (the general amount of time for brief therapy).
It is ok to inquire about things that are specifically important to you. Maybe you want to know if the therapist is aware of the role religion or faith plays in the African American community. Or perhaps you want to know if the therapist has had specific knowledge about anti-racism. It is perfectly okay to ask. Before my oldest child was born, I interviewed doctors because I wanted the best fit for a pediatrician. This is no different."