By Nia Simone McLeod
The importance of maintaining your mental health is a conversation that often falls by the wayside within the black community. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) reports that only a quarter of African Americans seek mental health care, compared to 40 percent of whites. Even though, according to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population.
Recently, conversations about mental health are becoming more and more normalized. TV characters like Molly Carter on the HBO show Insecure and Nola Darling on the Netflix reboot of Spike Lee’s classic movie She’s Gotta Have It are going to therapy and starting conversations with their viewers. Celebrities like Taraji P. Henson are advocating for mental health awareness. Factors such as these are influencing more black women than ever to begin going to therapy.
If you are wondering about therapy, there are a couple of different things that you should be aware of before you go to your first therapy session.
1.Don’t Be Afraid to Explore Your Options
Understanding the logistics behind getting therapy (cost, scheduling, etc.) is an important part of ensuring that your journey is fruitful and productive. Check to see if your prospective therapist can be covered by your insurance, at least partly. If you don’t have insurance, there may be other options available to minimize cost. For example, some therapists offer discounted or free services for those who don’t have insurance.
One of the many grievances towards therapy lying within the black community is that the therapist, often, “won’t understand you.” This is due to the lack of diversity within the psychology field. According to the APA (American Psychological Association), in 2015, 86 percent of psychologists in the U.S. workforce were white, 5 percent were Asian, 5 percent were Hispanic, 4 percent were Black or African American, and 1 percent were multiracial or from another racial group.
Thankfully, there are online resources available for you to find black female therapists in your area. TherapyForBlackGirls provides an excellent directory of black female therapists. You can search by area and insurance to find someone who has the best chance of fitting your lifestyle. The Open Path Collective and Psychology Today also offer great directories of psychologists that you can contact directly.
2. Being Honest is Key
In order to make progress during your therapy journey, you have to be honest. Tangee Moore, the owner and lead outpatient therapist of Avail Outpatient Counseling, says that “honesty is the best policy”, “Black women have been taught to remain silent to avert from shame, embarrassment, and judgment when mental health problems exist. You cannot heal what you do not reveal. If you hide information, or are dishonest progress will be limited.”
Openness during the first session is very important, says Moore, “When you go for the first time nothing is “off limits”. It will help the therapist gain an understanding of all the many parts of you in an effort to help and support you. My motto is “I am not here to save you, I am here to stand beside you while you save yourself.”
Dr. Jessica Brown, counseling psychologist and assistant professor of counseling and practical theology at Virginia Union University, suggests to reflect on the reasons why you’re considering counseling before going to your first therapy session, “One of my favorite questions to ask people is what therapists like to call the “miracle question”: If you woke up tomorrow, and you were better, and therapy had done its job, what would be different about you or your life? This gives people a good starting point for thinking about goals. Black women are often so used to thinking about other people instead of themselves, so it’s good to actually set aside some time to think about it and reflect.”
- Remember Therapy is Not a Quick-Fix
One therapy session isn’t going to magically poof your problems away. Progress within therapy relies on your consistency, both in the counseling room and out in the real world. Moore believes that the work of therapy is truly two-sided, “Speaking to a therapist for an hour a week, and then doing nothing outside of the clinical setting will not allow positive outcomes to be reached. It will be imperative to complete homework, practice your skills, and legitimately try the recommendations you are given.”
Moore continues, stating that therapy is an “investment for the future. Therapy will become a part of the toolbox on their journey to healing.”
- You’re Greater Than the Stigma
Moore wants black women to understand that choosing to seek therapy is a sign of strength, “Many black women, because of the ‘superwoman syndrome,’ have an internal expectation of themselves, conditioned to believe that she can and should do everything for herself, even healing. It is important for women to recognize that seeking help from a therapist is a sign of strength and not a weakness.”
Combating stigma is incredibly difficult, especially when it lies within your own community. But, there are things you can do in order to combat this stigma. Both Dr. Jessica Brown and Tangee Moore have the same suggestion: tell your story.
Dr. Brown says, “Those of us who have sought mental health care can do our part by talking about our experiences and working to normalize it. We can be honest when we are struggling, and then share our triumphs when we are able to get better. We are not robots.”
Moore believes in the power of testimony, “Your story is powerful! Your testimony is motivating and can help others. Don’t be afraid to share a story about your personal experiences with mental health challenges as it can help in your own recovery as well as provide encouragement and support to others with similar experiences. This may ultimately lead others to a relationship with a higher power and lower the stigma of what it means to attend therapy or any other healing service.”