(sweatshirt from https://www.etsy.com/shop/TwoBlackTees)
It's taken me a while to write this. It's been quite the year (and some change). It's been quite the year as a person in a pandemic. As a person dealing with a very intense political climate. And then you add as a Black person in the United States. People are exhausted to say the least. But I also feel like this is the perfect time to talk about why I love being a Black therapist and how it helps my clients, my culture, and therapy as a whole.
When I was in grad school, I started to recognize how important it was for me personally to have a non-white therapist, ideally a Black therapist. I had also realized though that Black therapists were harder to come by. As it was, I was only one of two Black students in my cohort program and one of six non-white students. I'm excited that it seems like these numbers are growing since that time over 10 years ago (or maybe I'm just more aware). Black people are able to see an array of clinicians who look like them with more and more therapy directories popping up tailored to this. Of course I hope that all clinicians are "culturally competent" as many programs and ethic protocols like to state. But, even if I make this assumption which (unfortunately) probably isn't always or completely true, there are a few reasons just off the top of my head of why Black people having the option to see a Black therapist is important.
Most importantly, a safe Black space:
You probably have heard it before but the most important part of therapy is the relationship. That means that the client has to feel that they are in a safe place to explore things and be vulnerable. Without that, you end up fronting for someone and not really getting to the issues that you came to therapy for in the first place. Just doesn't make sense to me to pay someone that you then feel that you need to impress or hide things from rather than improve your situation. So being a Black person going to therapy, I have to know that I can open up and not be retraumatized in this space where I really needed safety and support.
The Black therapist Black client relationship leaves room for my clients to assume a safety where they don't feel the need take extra steps to consider about how I may feel about topics like Black Lives Matter, microaggressions, or systemic racism. They can go into a conversation without second guessing if I will try to rationalize what happened as something else. In all honesty, I've had my own white therapists that I've been able to have these conversations with and it has gone well. They were very supportive and aware. But I have to admit that I even caught myself going into the conversation knowing that it might be a situation where I may have to educate my therapist or defend my racial experience which is anxiety provoking in itself. I didn't want to be the teacher or defender of my feelings instead of just being able to process them.
I've also had non-Black therapists who didn't bring up or almost seemed to avoid the topic of race even in 2020 as all of the racial concerns are coming up to the surface in our society (just to clarify, for us Black people, these things aren't new). It feels burdensome to be responsible for bringing up this topic with a therapist rather than the therapist knowing that this is a potential factor in the client's experience. Many clients might not reflect on it this way but may just feel that there's something off about this dynamic that they can't put their finger on. Since I've been trained on the other side, I know that it's really a responsibility of the clinician to bring up.
Let me share something you may not have considered:
Being a Black female therapist allows me to share insight to clients that they may not have considered on their own on Black history or the Black experience. Three interactions last year really highlighted that to me.
I was able to share with a non-Black client another perspective of the protests that erupted after George Floyd's murder that did not consider the protestors as "rioters". I respectfully and gently pushed them to reflect on what led to their assumptions and ask questions that would reflect a Black mindset of why these situations happened and were being shown in the media the way that they were. If they never fully understood the perspective that I was opening them up to, that would have been okay and I think we could have continued our therapeutic relationship but there would have been other therapists who chose to leave the topic alone, change the subject matter, or allow the client to continue venting without any type of challenging.
This doesn't only happen with non-Black clients. I've also had Black clients who have dismissed incidents or not understood situations from a different Black perspective. This could be me validating a client's experience around racism that they had written off. Or it could be me educating clients on some of the historical aspects of race that shape racial interactions today that related to their experience. We all don't think the same but me using my experience and knowledge around the topic has been helpful for some of my clients.
Simply stated, the more Black people become therapists, the more this opens up the idea to other Black people to be therapists or seek therapy. Therapy then no longer becomes a Black thing. It's no longer looked at as a thing where you will go and be told that "you're crazy", a common concern of why many Black people are told to avoid therapy. It decreases the likelihood of a disconnect where you open up and the therapist won't understand your culture or even your communication style. They will even get the normalization of some potentially problematic ways of your shared culture and try to provide education to confront other ways that our people could handle certain things. Even with diagnoses that people are given, there are more advocates to push back on whitewashing aspects of how we think of maladaptive behaviors or even what we think ARE maladaptive behaviors. Representation matters in all aspects of our life so that we're not all stuffed into a box we weren't meant to fit into and therapy is no different.
Where to start:
If you want to find a Black therapist for yourself, there are a number of ways you could go about making this happen.
Ask a friend. Some of the best ways to find a therapist is to find someone who has already found someone and can vouch for their skill. This doesn't mean that you'll vibe with them in the same way that they vibe with that therapist but it's worth a shot. (With that being said, this is why consultations are important as well as why we need a number of Black therapists so that you can get multiple referrals.)
Ask a Black therapist to refer some potential therapists that may be a good fit for you. Chances are they have a tribe or at least have networked with other Black therapist that they may be able to send you their information.