When studying to become a therapist, they teach you that you must always be culturally competent, meaning aware of your personal beliefs and biases. We are asked to be knowledgeable about different cultures, have skills to manage our differences, and be mindful of our attitude towards other cultures. The real question is, is it possible to be culturally competent to all cultures?
The answer is no, which is why many people seeking therapy want a therapist who reflects their black and brown identities. A professional who can acknowledge unspoken expectations, and the rich tapestry of their culture, creating a safe space to know more.
Trust is an important factor in mental health outcomes
Like it or not, the medical community is laced with disparities when it comes to race. Black people, for instance, are twice as likely to be hospitalized for care compared to white people and are often misdiagnosed. When working with a therapist who is not culturally competent, it leaves room for preconceived notions and conclusions that can have severe consequences on the emotional wellbeing of minority populations. This contributes to mistrust within the community and poor health outcomes in the long run.
Having a provider who deeply understands and can disarm those fears makes a significant difference for people of color seeking help. It’s no different than a woman seeking a female doctor for a specific issue because she feels more comfortable and better able to communicate her needs. We want to be careful not to generalize here, as even minority therapists need ongoing learning on the complexities of diversity, generational trauma, and systemic inequalities. However, even with that factor, diversity still matters.
“My experience has shown that when you deal with culturally sensitive issues, you have no choice but to be as careful and as patient as possible. Every concern should be addressed properly. Otherwise, greater problems emerge at later times, when nothing can be done.”
—Mrs. Farzaneh Davari, UNFPA National Project Director, Iran
You may find the following reflections insightful, as shared in this piece by the Psychotherapy Networker regarding the experiences for people of color in the last year alone (but influenced by generations of disparities):
“We cannot accept people saying, ‘Get over it, it already happened, move on.’ I think this is a major problem—the lack of acknowledgment that we as a race have experienced trauma. We have to say it out loud, acknowledge it, and understand how this crime against humanity manifests. Only then can we truly address it, see it for what it is.”
Zamantha Gobourne, LICSW
“I’ve begun telling students and beginning counselors to ‘lean in and look within’ at their own biases. Acknowledging personal biases and educating oneself about culture and ethnicities different from your own are ways to shift your thinking and become more open to differences. This can challenge and foster change.”
Shaketa Bruce, MS, LPC, NCC, CCH
“Understand that systemic racism contributes to Black people’s vulnerability to psychological, emotional, and social distress. It makes them hesitant to seek mental health services, especially from those who don’t look like them.”
Tytannie Harris, LCSW
Here’s The Problem
According to the American Psychological Association, as of 2021 86% of therapists are White while only 4% are Black.
There aren’t enough minority therapists to go around.
Further complicating things, many insurance companies are unwilling to pay therapists their full fees- despite the caliber of work that goes into healing and the documentation to back it up. That means many shy away from certain plans leaving even fewer opportunities to receive care.
Que the Pandemic
Covid- 19 has placed a significant demand on an already strained system. Many individuals report a change in their mental health in the past year because of the following reasons:
. Death of a loved one
. Loss of employment/Income
. Quarantine (closures of schools, universities, jobs)
. Fear of being Infected
. Returning to workplaces with no plan to address stress, anxiety, and burnout.
All of this and more directly contribute to increased rates of stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as sleep issues and an increase in alcohol or substance use.
Data has shown that in January of 2019, 11% of adults reported anxiety or depression symptoms, while in January of 2021 that percentage went up to 41%. Black and Hispanic minorities face a more considerable disparity compared to whites during the pandemic. They have been hit harder in deaths, infections rate, stress, depression, and anxiety.
As our stressors continue to rise, we have to explore opportunities to revolutionize access to mental health services. The goal should be to create more spaces where people can simply be all of their complex selves, and feel safe doing so.
Here’s a list of resources that can be useful in obtaining a minority based or inclusive therapist:
* If you are in the helping professions (Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapist, Creative Arts
Therapists, CASAC’s, Nursing, etc.) or just curious- Join us for an indepth conversation, Sound the Alarm: The Crisis of Mental Health in Communities of Color on 10.19.21 hosted virtually by Molloy College: https://bit.ly/3jDWonC
** As a consumer– Call your insurance provider and ask why they don’t have more therapists of color on their panel.
*** Tell your employer your wellness matters and ask why they don’t offer more onsite wellness programs.
Piece written by Kilcy Martinez, York College Graduate School of Social Work Intern and edited by Amanda Fludd, LCSW-R, Psychotherapist & Mental Health Consultant.