As the non-Black world continues to open its eyes to the racism that Black people have faced for generations, the Black community is dealing with increased pressure, fatigue and anxiety as racial trauma and buried pain surface. And as a community that already receives less mental health support and is more likely to suffer from psychological distress, mental health needs to become a priority for Black people.
“The time we’re in right now, with the political tension, the COVID tension and the racial tension, is a great time to get into therapy,” said Peter Fitts, a licensed certified social worker at The Chesapeake Center in Maryland. “There is a lot of quiet anxiety and quiet stress that people have right now.”
With virtual therapy appointments, phone calls and even text services, it’s not hard to find time in your life for therapy — the bigger challenge can sometimes be finding a therapist who fits your needs. For the Black community specifically, having a Black therapist can be beneficial for a bevy of reasons. The biggest benefit being that the therapist understands the Black experience and how it affects day-to-day life, decisions and beliefs.
There are a number of things to keep in mind when looking for the right Black therapist. Below, Black mental health experts shared tips for finding a Black therapist who fits in with your mental health goals.
Utilize databases that cater to Black mental health when doing your initial therapist research.
“The first thing is actually finding a therapist,” said Amina Shaw-Moss, an art psychotherapist based in Brooklyn, New York. Shaw-Moss recommended looking for a therapist in databases of Black mental health professionals. She recommended doing your research on websites like InnoPsych, Kindred Medicine, Melanin and Mental Health and Therapy for Black Girls.
She noted that the databases feature thousands of Black mental health professionals who offer different styles of treatment all over the country.
If you can, start your mental health journey before you are in crisis mode.
Fitts recommended those interested in finding a therapist start looking and start attending therapy before something goes wrong in their life. He noted that it is harder to find the right therapist when you rush to find someone in your time of need.
“You don’t have to be in crisis mode to be in therapy,” Fitts said. “The best time to engage in therapy is when things feel good because we all have ups and downs in our lives. We should be looking to upgrade our mental health at all times. We go to the gym and work out, we do other things to get healthy — our mental health is just as important as physical health.”
He stressed that starting your mental health journey outside of times of need can mean seeing a therapist once a month or even every couple of months ― it doesn’t have to be a weekly commitment. It just ensures you have a trusted therapist to reach out to when your life takes an unexpected turn.
Interview therapists before selecting one.
“It’s always good to interview therapists to find out what their perspective is, their framework, how they operate and see if they are a good fit for you,” Fitts said. “The first session is almost always a consultation session, so you can decide if the therapist is a good fit. Interview and talk to a couple before you make a final decision.”
He added that you do not have to feel indebted to a counselor. Just because you find someone to reach out to doesn’t mean you have to select them to be your therapist. You also shouldn’t feel like you need to stay with a therapist who doesn’t meet your needs. A lot of people feel that once they find a psychologist or therapist, they have to stick with them. Fitts reiterated that it is OK to find someone else at any point on your mental health journey.
Seek out a connection.
When developing a rapport with your counselor, it’s crucial to not only have a trusted therapist to turn to but also someone whom you connect deeply with.
“Ultimately, the first thing I tell people to look for is a connection because it’s not always enough just to have a Black therapist or counselor,” said Shauntay D. Alexander, owner of Story of Your Life Counseling and Consulting Services in Memphis, Tennessee. “We all have different specialties, we all have different personality types, teaching types, learning types, and we all have different experiences. You definitely want to make sure you find somebody that you connect well with.”
She suggested truly listening to the therapists you meet to learn about their personal story and their personality traits. This will let you see if they can help you achieve your mental health goals. Ultimately, you should like your therapist and actively want to talk to them so you will feel comfortable sharing your most personal thoughts.
Look for a therapist who educates.
“If you’re not learning from your therapist — not just fixing your problems or issues — then it’s not working,” Alexander said. “Education is a big part of mental wellness, especially in the Black community because of the subliminal and blatant things that people have said to us and taught us about our value and worth.”
Alexander noted that the Black community has been taught a number of lies throughout history that have, unfortunately, been accepted as part of the Black identity. It is important that you have a therapist who is willing to help you unlearn those stigmas and stereotypes. It’s also crucial to work with someone who normalizes the emotions you feel.
Don’t give up on your mental health journey.
Shaw-Moss stressed that beginning your mental health journey can fatigue you after making the first step of calling a therapist, making an appointment and deciding if you can ultimately afford therapy.
“You really have to continue with a certain level of vigor and decide to push through and stay committed to the mental health process,” Shaw-Moss said.
Finding the right Black therapist for you can take time and effort, but choosing someone you relate to, trust and learn from is the only way your mental health goals will be achieved.